Saturday, December 25, 2010

Spiderman: Turn Off The Light

"Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark" previews have been riddled with multiple injuries and technical snafus. Both shows were cancelled on December 22nd. Opening night was supposed to be January 11th, now it it has been postponed to February 7th. One of the performers is in the hospital after a thirty foot fall from a platform. The stuntman was attached to a cable that snapped. He was supposed to fly. Instead he plummeted--Stuntman? Wait a minute is this theatre or film?

Flying in the theater has been done before thanks to stalwarts like Peter Pan and Mary Poppins. The actors soar through the air, the audience is dazzled, the moment passes and the story proceeds. In "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark" the characters spend all sorts of time in the air. They fly around engaging in aerial combat; executing cirque-de-soleil-type stunts. There is that word again: stunts. Is "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark" trying to be a musical for the stage or a movie on stage?

If a stuntman for a movie is asked to take a leap from a thirty foot platform he is asked to do it a minimum number of times. When they are asked to take that same leap on stage eight times a week are the creators stretching the limits of the stage? Should there be limits to the stage? Is that a bad thing?

The show's creator Julie Taymor boasts about the complex flying and visual effects. The budget for the show is estimated to be $65 million. That sounds like movie money to me. By having the performers in Spiderman fly over and over executing death defying acts is Taymor blurring the line between what can or should happen on stage and what can happen in film? Do the producers of theater feel compelled to compete with films like Avatar and Yogi Bear 3D? Stage and film are different mediums for a reason.

When Julie Taymor thrilled the theater world with her stage interpretation of Disney's film "The Lion King" she found ingenious ways to theatricalize the cinematic. She let the audience fill in the blanks and see that actors were portraying the wild animals by melding the human form with masks and puppetry.

None of the press about "Spiderman: Turn off the Dark" has had anything to do with the acting, music or lyrics. The word on the street is that all of those things are quite weak.

What about the story? Julie Taymor calls it a rock and roll circus drama. Then Bono (yeah that Bono) who wrote the music and lyrics says, "We've moved out of the rock and roll idiom in places...including big show tunes and dance songs. U'2's The Edge: a co-creator is unsure of what description to use for the production. Bono has also deemed it "pop- up, pop-art opera" which he then admits is pretentious. Taymor has also told brokers that it isn't a musical. Is this show so good it defies description? Or is it so bad that it defies logic?

Meanwhile, performers are risking their lives doing things they probably shouldn't be doing. Christopher Tierney the young man who fell thirty feet underwent back surgery on Wednesday and his family is celebrating that he can walk again.

There is something insidious about pushing the limits this far most likely for profit rather than improvement of the content. The collateral damage is mounting. Maybe "Spiderman: Turn off the Dark" should turn out its light and be the most expensive Broadway show ever to be produced that never opens.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Wave

Ah, the wave. Not your garden-variety-crowd undulation that happens at sporting events. I'm talking about the conciliatory wave that driver's give one another when one has yielded to the other. I love that wave. I consider it one of the final vestiges of humanity. I depend on it. When I get it, my faith in mankind is refreshed. When I don't get it, I am offended.

The least a person could do after you have made their day a little easier in traffic is throw up their hand and acknowledge the kind gesture. Do the people who don't wave feel entitled? Are they some kind of royalty who assume that people should defer to their presence? Just who is it that they think they are?

Recently, a guy on Facebook took the time to post the law in Illinois that states a driver doesn't have to stop when an ambulance passes with sirens blazing they only need to slow down. How stupid people are for stopping instead of slowing down, he argued. If only these simpletons knew the letter of the law these idiots would not get in his way when he: Mr. Smarty Pants, simply slowed his roll in deference to peril. Clearly, wherever he needs to be in these moments is far more important than where any ambulance might need to be. Really, buddy?

Despite my new knowledge of this factoid I will always come to a full stop when an ambulance needs to get through. If there is an ambulance there is an emergency. Something bigger than myself. I can stop. Just because we don't have to doesn't mean we shouldn't.

If it's a firetruck rushing to get a cat out of a tree or a policeman turning on his lights just to get through, I'm going to stop. I'm going to wave when people are kind enough to let me go and I'm going to continue to let people go ahead of me. Cause that's how I roll, T-style.

To quote Jon Stewart in his final speech at The Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C. "And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30 foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river... You go. Then I’ll go. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go... Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go."

Err on the side of decency and kindness. "You go then I'll go." There's a mantra I'd like to have sweep the nation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Is the "B" Word the New "N" Word?

In one week I heard Joy Behar of "The View" call GOP Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle a bitch and Sharon Osbourne of "The Talk" call Marie Claire columnist Maura Kelly the same word. For what reasons? That shouldn't matter.

If any of the Joy or Sharon were men their self expression would have been met with protests and most likely firings. Instead, Behar and Osbourne were met with enthusiastic applause by mostly female audiences. I smell a double standard. If a woman calls another woman a bitch is it somehow acceptable? In their defense, would Joy or Sharon use the same rationale that some black people use when justifying their use of the "n' word? The whole "we"-can-say-it-but-"you"-can't mentality doesn't work for me. When they tv hosts spit the word out I cringed in the same way I would if a man had said it. I don't know why the audience applauded.

I don't think girls or women should call one another bitches. I think it makes it easier for boys and men to call girls and women bitches. We don't need to make it easy for them.

And if a woman is critical of another woman's behavior than I think they should get articulate and use words that actually dissect the behavior, pinpoint their issue with it and offer a thoughtful counterpoint. There is no dialogue after someone smacks a label on another person. Nothing can be gained except the temporary satisfaction that comes from getting a feeling off your chest.

Women, don't let other women call other women bitches. It's a bully tactic. We have to be better than that.

Take Palin's Show and Shove It

I have a confession to make. I watched the debut of that Sarah Palin show on TLC. To be honest I watched it as one might watch a car accident. With Sarah Palin I find it hard to avert my eyes. The first episode introduced beautiful Alaska (which I had never thought twice about) and a somewhat human side of a person I had fairly or unfairly reduced to robot status.

By her own design, Sarah Palin has turned herself into a caricature of herself and this show helped undo that for about an hour. Granted whenever she addressed the camera directly, she was the same old persona that was born the night of her first debate with Joe Biden. (Remember,"Can I call ya Joe?" only as a set up for "There ya go, Joe.") But when the cameras caught her at home focused on the computer rather than her teenage daughter's male friend sneaking upstairs, or her genuine panic when she attempted to scale the side of a mountain, she came across as a woman I could actually tolerate. For example, if she was one of the Mothers of my daughter's preschool classmates I could manage some small talk while we waited for them to be dismissed without having to bite the sides of my cheeks in order to force myself not to roll my eyes. Maybe. I watched for that hour and thought, "Huh, Sarah Palin. Huh."

Cut to the second airing of Sarah Palin's show on TLC. This episode followed Sarah and Bristol Palin as they joined some commercial fisherman angling for Halibut. I appreciate Sarah Palin's love for the outdoors and her willingness to try anything. I appreciate it in the same way that I appreciate any outdoorsy-types because it is so unlike me. I proudly consider myself an Indoorsman. I love the indoors and I don't apologize. But I don't appreciate watching Sarah and Bristol clubbing the caught halibut between the eyes in order to ensure that the skin isn't bruised (which would diminish their value) as they flopped around on the bottom of the boat. I don't appreicate the footage in the "coming up" preview that showed the fisherman cutting the halibut's throat and chopping it's head off. It was gross and pornographic in it's graphic nature.

Yes, I eat fish. Yes, I am aware that a fish have to die in order for me to eat it. What bothers me the most is the detachment and glee Sarah Palin displayed. It bothers me even more because Sarah Palin has the right to edit anything out of the program she wishes. She is fully in charge of the message so it makes me question why she wants to send a message like that.

I suspect Sarah Palin is not interested in me. I suspect she is interested in people just like her. "Sarah Palin's Alaska" on TLC is no recruitment video. She doesn't seem to care who she disgusts; literally or figuratively. Her take-my-life-or-shove-it attitude is what made me roll my eyes in the first place.

Sarah Palin, huh? Huh.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Moving Target

I have a dress from Target that I purchased this summer. There is no shame in my confession. Target has become the go-to store when I need something, cheap, fashionable and most importantly, comfortable. This dress is from the Mossimo line which has become a staple in my wardrobe. Whenever I need anything: a skirt, a top, a casual frock and have looked around (even at more expensive fancy schmancy stores) I often end up finding exactly what I want from that designer. Yes, designer. That’s what I said. Target has name designers that contribute to their selections. Due to the volume of women who need reasonably priced alternatives it would be foolish not to get in bed with the mega-chain.

This dress is creme with lavender, black and beige markings that look as if someone drew on the material with thick chalk. It has a v-neck and short sleeves that hang loose and unfitted around my arms. There is no waist which makes it perfect when the idea of anything hugging my middle is as desirable as wearing a fur in summer. (Not that I’d wear fur in any season. I’m opposed to fur. Go Peta!)Basically, the dress is completely shapeless but when it falls on your body it skims your curves in the right places and looks quite pretty. It is a welcome relief when I don’t feel like wearing anything but my pajamas outdoors. “Attention designers! Ready –to wear- pajama-inspired-clothes will sell like Girl Scout Cookies. You won’t be able to keep your stuff on the racks.”

The other thing about this dress that makes me love it so is that I’ve been able to wear it during my pregnancy. The fact that it is not maternity clothes makes me feel like I’m Gisele Bundchen who recently stated she was able to wear all her regular clothes during her pregnancy and barely gained any weight. This was paired with a post pregnancy picture of her looking runway-read while carrying her three month old son. I was so happy for her when I saw that. I really was.

I am eight months pregnant and I am wrestling with something that could make or break the next fifty-six days. I am huge. There is no other word to describe it. I weigh approximately the same as I did at the end of my last pregnancy but overall I‘ve gained less weight. Does that make sense? Unlike Gisele, I never made it back to my starting weight after my daughter was born but strangely, like Gisele, I was able to get back into all the clothes I wore pre-pregnancy and felt relatively good about myself so all was well. Even though I’ve gained less weight I’m the same size I was in my previous ninth month but I’m only in my eighth month which means I’m slowing down much sooner, uncomfortable much earlier and-ready-to-pop-big for much longer. This needs a diagram.

Did I mention I’m big? My side profile is something to behold. I could rival Hitchcock’s shadow. I think my breasts weigh three pounds each and my butt is bootylicious to say the least. Here’s the thing. Here is what I am wrestling with. None of this has to be bad a thing. I’m pregnant. Why not enjoy this last hurrah and love my largesse?

That question brings me back to the Mossimo dress because what started out as a super-cute non-maternity-option in the beginning and middle of my ten months (yes, we’re pregnant for ten months but we’ve been lied to and told it’s nine) is now on the verge of looking like a super- cute- tarp. Some might suggest I stop wearing it due to this transition. I suggest that I keep wearing it and let go of this illusion that at this point anything I wear could make me look skinny. It shouldn’t matter that the dress covers my butt and stomach like a spray tan. I’m frickin’ comfortable. Comfort is all that matters.

I bought a couple more maternity tarps recently and I feel quite sexy in them. I wear them with black boots and I’m convinced I look good. When I first purchased them, I stopped by my sister’s place to try them on and get her approval. (I do this whenever I’m uncertain of an item pregnant or not) She always tells me the truth. She looked me over from the front view and said, “Cute.” When I showed her my side profile she said, “Well, what are you gonna do?” Not exactly the response you want to hear from someone evaluating how you look but in the end it pushed me to answer the question. “What was I gonna do?” Nothing, I decided. Nothing other than wear those dresses and anything else that doesn’t constrain me.

I’m going to look in the mirror and accept myself. Did you just read that? I’m going to look in the mirror and accept myself. My goal is that this mantra carries on when I am not pregnant no matter how long it takes me to lose the weight or whether I ever do. Maybe, I won’t have a built in excuse like pregnancy to be big but if I follow this new code of acceptance I won’t feel I need to make excuses. We all do the best we can, don’t we? If we’re not doing the best we can there’s a reason holding us back that is probably begging us to give ourselves a break.

None of this is easy and I certainly have my moments of doubt. The other day I wore a Monica-Lewinsky-inspired, blue, short sleeved, knee length dress with a belt. I walked through a hallway where I teach and some college students were waiting outside a classroom. Every single one of them looked at my stomach as I passed by. I don’t know what they were thinking but it was hard not to feel self conscious in that moment.

I’m a moving target. Where else are they supposed to look? Why do I assume they were thinking something bad? Conditioning, that’s why. We women are taught to cover and hide anything that doesn’t fall in line even when we are blessed with child. You would have thought Gabourey Sidibe (the Academy Award nominee for her searing performance in Precious) had murdered someone in Howard Stern’s family the way he spoke of her weight on air."There's the most enormous, fat black chick I've ever seen. She is enormous," he described as if her weight relinquished her from any rights. His sidekick and enemy to women Robin Quivers agreed. Whether the actress is obese or not the hatred Stern expressed was undeserved and gives fuel to the fear of fat women feel on a daily basis.

Each time I reach for clothes I have to do a quick check of my confidence meter. Can I pull this off today? Will I not be moved? Today the answer was no. I wanted to wear this new dark tan ruffley number but I forgot my mantra and put on black pants and a shirt. The shirt isn’t fooling anybody but I feel a little less out there. Maybe I’ll change my outfit later after I look in the mirror and accept myself then conquer my world with pride.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Parental Theatre

Parental Theatre

I realized something March 4th at the Panera Breads on Church Street in Evanston at approximately 12:30p. If you were there at that time then I ask you to take a good long look at yourself. I was with my dear two and a half year old Audra in yet another attempt to convince myself that it’s possible to take her to lunch right before her naptime.

Whenever I lunch with Audra I’m aware that our time is limited. Whatever she is eating is the only thing that keeps her still for an extended period of time. I’m like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she’s locked in the Wicked Witch’s castle and she stares hopelessly at the sand in the hour glass knowing as soon as it is empty her fate is sealed. While I eat my food I keep one eye on whatever she is eating with a lower grade version of Dorothy’s desperation. If she finishes before I do I’ll either 1) be forced to eat much faster than I’d like or 2) be forced to get a to-go box for the rest of my meal.

Unless I am with someone who is able to keep Audra interested while I eat there is just no point in trying to fight the pending battle. Audra likes to move and wiggle, wander and climb. On an average day she risks her life at least four times. In a restaurant the potential for danger is high so once she is out of her seat it is pretty much time to go. Plus, I don’t want her behavior to interrupt other patrons. I’m not one of those parents convinced that everyone wants to be around my child. I try to anticipate the point where she is no longer a cute distraction to other adults and leave them with their peace.

That being said, I’d appreciate a little consideration on the part of the adults I am trying to protect. In public I am currently a sight to behold. I am approximately nineteen months pregnant and although I like to think that the signature scarves I wear around my neck camouflage my stomach I am quite huge. There is no mistaking that I am a big ole pregnant lady already blessed with a very active child. One might think I would be spared from nasty sideway glances as Audra starts to get agitated. One might look with empathy and give a woman a break or some aid. Apparently, not.

Here is what I realized. People like to watch the theatre of parenting when they are not parents or if they are parents on leave from their own charges. It so easy to sit in the balcony, look down and judge that fat lady wrestling with a little girl who is practicing her right to civil disobedience by going limp and falling to the floor like a sixties protester while whining or screaming or both. Somehow the notion of helping said fat lady doesn’t occur to any of these folks as they drink their drinks and slurp their soups.

When in the throes of battle, it is intrinsic to a two-and-half-soon-to- be-big-sister’s knowledge base to make it impossible for her Mother to lift her. When she dissolves to the ground in a fit, my bending over to lift her would likely result in a face plant where I’d sprawl across her, crushing her with my girth while smooshing my unborn child. Nobody needs to see that, do they?

I admit I might be taken aback if a stranger walked up to us in one of those moments and tried to help. Their approach would determine how I would respond (I’m not asking for unsolicited advice here) but I’ve never had the chance to gage what I’d do because nobody every offers as much as a sympathetic glance. At least nobody at the Panera Breads on Church Street in Evanston on March 4, 2010 at approximately 12:30p lifted a bagel in my direction.

Here’s a question:

“People of The Evanston Panera on Church Street! Why didn’t anyone offer to help me get her to her feet? I know there were Mother’s disguised in business clothes who at least once in their lives were in the exact same predicament as me. Why did you look around and over us sneaking glances but never look directly into the eye of our storm!? I know! Because even though a child throwing a tantrum in a restaurant interrupts your plans for lunch, there is another part of you who secretly enjoys the entertainment value of watching somebody else’s torture. In this case a defenseless pregnant Mother. It’s the same reason we get stalled in traffic by a gaper’s block and shows like 48 hours and Dateline are so popular! Why else would those “To Catch a Predator” exposes have been so highly rate? We love an ugly scene as long as it isn’t ours! Shame on you! Shame! Shame!” Boy it was good to get that off my chest!

Now I realize people aren’t all bad. We wouldn’t have the type of money raised for Haiti or a strong volunteer force in this country or any other feel good stories about stranger’s lending a hand that are featured at the end of the local news if people weren’t inherently good. The problem is that as parents we haven’t given people (outside family or paid employees) the permission to help us even though we desperately need it.

Giving permission would involve telling the truth about how difficult parenting can be and how almost nobody gets it right on a regular basis. I know there were people in that Panera whose inner dialogue included, “My God, can’t she control her own child?” If they’d asked me directly my answer would have been, ”No, I can’t control my own child! Isn’t that obvious? You have way more of a chance of getting her to do what I want her to do. Try! Go ahead and see!”

Giving permission would mean that I wouldn’t play a part in the Parental Theatre by performing the role of the “Patient Mother” who speaks in low calm tones and gets down to her daughter’s level (when I can manage) in order to gently hold her face and look her right in the eyes. In life, I do try to be that Mother but in certain instances it is nearly impossible to keep all those components together. Instead of indicating to anyone around me that I’m about to lose it, I project a serene demeanor and a sweet smile for anyone who catches my eye. Maybe they think I’ve got it under control due to my bravura performance. Well, I don’t.

One of the things that works the best when it comes to getting Audra to step in line is when I warn her with, “Aunt Gina wouldn’t like that ,” or “Ann and Del won’t allow your Princess slippers in class so you need to leave them at home.” Any time I warn her with another authority figure’s opinion of her there is an immediate change in her behavior. Do you think she’d give a hooey if I say I don’t want her to wear them? Heck no!

There are child experts who would say, “Good job, Mom. She ignores you because she feels safe and secure with you and knows you won’t abandon her, blah, blah, blah.” Great! In the meantime, I. Need. Help. The saying, “It takes a village,” is the right idea but the word village indicates people we know. I advocate that it takes a community: sometimes a community of people we don’t know.

So, if you see a black very pregnant woman with a light skinned, curly haired two and half year old girl having at it at PANERA in Evanston or a book store or grocery store I promise I won’t be offended. I’ll be grateful. Ask how you can help and I will tell you. “Get her to her feet, please.” “Find a way to make her laugh.” “Take her for a few hours and I’ll call you later.” What!?

Now, I feel exposed and hope others feel the same lest this is all proof that I am a bad Mother and everyone else can control their children and I’ll be hearing from child welfare soon. Truth begets vulnerability. I am exposed but maybe next time a pregnant Sister will get a hand.

Monday, January 18, 2010

To Haiti, with Love

I love Haitian people. That probably sounds like a racist generality along the lines of "I love black people," or "Some of my best friends are...fill in your blank." Let me clarify. I am Haitian. Second generation. One Hundred percent. My parents have inhabited America for forty-five years but they are Haitian to their core. Not one ounce of them reads American. Their accents are strong, their French and Creole are in tact, and their perspective is other. They. Are. Haitian. And I love Haitian people. But it isn't just my immediate family that I love. When I hear a stranger on the street release the song of a Haitian voice whether it be in accented English or French I introduce myself and tell them I am Haitian, too. I adopt them as an Auntie or Uncle, cousin, friend. We speak in French. Theirs is beautiful. Mine not so much. I try to excuse my American accent and compromised speech by explaining that I understand French better than I speak it because English was already in my household when I learned the language due to my older sister attending school. I forge ahead in the conversation because I love them and the sounds coming from their mouths. Haitian-French doesn't sound like Parisian-French. Parisian-French is light, clipped and whispers like a secret. Haitian-French is a loud, rich, lilting, musical, expressive echo of place and time that transports and connects me to anything good about my childhood. If invited, I would gladly follow my new Haitian relative home in hopes of meeting more Haitians. Maybe I would stay for a home cooked meal of chicken, red beans and rice, with plantains, pate and soup. I love Haitians.

I am an actress. Throughout my career, I have attempted to master the Haitian accent. I'd like to say I have played many Haitian roles or as an artist it was simply an accent I wanted for my toolbox. In actuality, I wanted to learn the accent in order to perfect the imitation of my Mother's voice for when I told stories about her. It's a great touch to throw in the accent whenever I say, "Then, my Mother said..." She's a real hit at parties. I recorded my parents in a series of interviews on various topics. On one tape, my Mother describes the Haitian accent as passionate, and rhythmic. Nothing is said with a soft touch. The simple is complex and everything; even "it" has meaning. I like that. The attack of the language makes one stand up and pay attention. I have never met a native Haitian without presence. My parents are two of the most commanding presences I've ever witnessed.

In addition to my emotional attachment to Haitian people, I happen to think they are one of the most physically beautiful people in the world. My grandmother's face was the essence of Haitian features. Her jaw line was square, cheekbones high, nose: broad. She was not tall. Her body carried nine children so her breasts were ample and her figure full but not fat. Her skin was Crayola-Crayon-Brown, unblemished and wrinkle free. Gray hair pulled back in a bun couldn't age her. Almond shaped eyes projected a fierce self-pride and the key to an inner knowledge that left me drawn to her. My Father's Mother, Christiane Andre Richard was the most beautiful woman I've ever seen.

Haitian pride and spirit is easily caught in the most casual of photographs. When posing in pictures, my parents, aunts and uncles don't smile. Instead, their chins jut out with a slight lift. Their shoulders are back and they look directly into the camera emanating pride. That is a happy pose in their minds. When I was a kid I often posed the same way. There is a picture of our family at my sister Lissa's eighth grade graduation. We all take that stance. Despite our ages, (I am twelve, Lissa is thirteen and Gina is seventeen) we look like sixty year old women holding the secret to life. My Father is tall with the same color brown skin as his Mother and he looks like the Haitian Sidney Poiter in a tailored blue suit. My Mother is simply gorgeous in a peach suit fashioned to a T with stunning accesories and styled hair. We are stunning. We are Haitians. Occasionally in pictures, my two and half year old daughter strikes the pose. My husband, step-kids, me, even our dog will be smiling ear to ear and she stares down the lens with shoulders thrown back like she is daring it to try and make her less proud. "It's the Haitian in her," my husband will say. It's in our blood.

I was part of a Haitian prayer circle that consisted of my parents, sister Gina, and three Haitians who came to our house after my sister Lissa died at age twenty two. This was eighteen years ago, now. The woman leading the prayer directed us into a circle to hold hands. This was not typical fare for my sister and me. Despite our sadness we had to avoid looking at each other in order not to laugh. The woman launched into a repetitive chant in French. She sang at the top of her lungs and released all the pain she felt and we felt but had yet to express. In an almost trance like state she pounded through the prayer, raised her head up and back, threw it down, rocked and swayed. I was horrified. I was desperate to laugh as a way to keep myself from being swept into her wave. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life.

Now I can't guarantee that her style of grieving was based solely on the fact that she was Haitian but it was certainly representative of the power of Haitian people. She unleashed it all, refusing to let the pain infect her or pin her down. Consequently, I was nailed to the ground by it. That woman could have stopped a train with her prayer. That is the Haitian spirit. As you listen to the news, don't just focus on the sorrow. Seek out the melody of a Haitian's voice. Look at their face and eyes. Love their beauty. Whether mourning, fighting, dying, laughing, dancing, celebrating, living, their spirits can stop this quake. See them. Love them.
Then, help them.