How can you know what you want till you get what you want and you see if you like it?

On Christmas day, me and my vaguely Jewish family* joined the stereotype and, before our large dinner of Chinese food, went to the movies. Of course, being theatre dorks, there really was only one choice of film for the day. My mom wanted to see Meryl Streep, and I was dying to see pretty much everything about Into the Woods, so off we went.

My social media feed has since exploded with folks who saw it and their opinions of it. It’s kind of inevitable when you’re friends with a lot of theatre-types (many of whom are professionals and/or academics). For the most part, people have positive things to say about the experience with the occasional hater mixed in for good measure.

For my part?   Haters gonna hate (…hate hate hate hate), but you just shake it off, Stephen Sondheim.

Into the Woods was a great film adaptation of a tricky complex story. The beauty of the play is in its tightness; the multitudes of tales that become inevitably intertwined by the greater dramatic events of Sondheim’s allegory. Director Rob Marshall and script/screenplay writer James Lapine did a masterful job of cutting the sometimes unwieldy piece into a slim two-hour film version that translated into the film medium with grace. Think about the scope of Into the Woods for a moment: you’ve got giants attacking townships, you’ve got birds pecking out peoples’ eyes, you’ve got cows dying and subsequently coming back to life who need to be milked onstage (and need to be able to eat props), you’ve got a character who needs to be cut open so that two other characters can come out of his belly, you’ve got a magic talking tree that showers gold and jewels and fashion onto a main character, you’ve got beanstalks growing, palaces thriving, balls balling, and markets selling. The show itself is cinematic in scale, and that’s even before you talk about taking it to the movies.

Film allowed Into the Woods to be its delightful self: quirky, magical, spectacular, and (yes) dark.

In the woods, you may encounter a Brussels Sprouts Swashbuckler who looks suspiciously like me.... alright, look, they shouldn't put weapon-shaped food on the shelves if they don't want people to fence with it, okay?

In the woods, you may encounter a Brussels Sprouts Swashbuckler who looks suspiciously like me…. alright, look, they shouldn’t put weapon-shaped food on the shelves if they don’t want people to fence with it, okay?

Now to the comment that the film was inevitably “Disneyfied”. Come on, people, what did you expect? You really think that a film being billed as a “mish-mosh of cute little fairy tales” would confront the reality of Sondheim’s allegory? Yes, “Hello, Little Girl” was a stranger danger song with no consequences beyond being followed home and eaten, and “I Know things Now” didn’t have the connotations of a sexual awakening. The Little Red plotline was kept very literal, at least on the surface. But let’s get real. Little Red Riding Hood is a story that bears the cultural burden of sexuality and has for hundreds of years; I hardly think that one film adaptation can undo all of that history. Besides which, the film doesn’t run from Sondheim’s lyrics. If you listen, even for a moment, the allegory is still there. The wolf still makes Red “feel excited… Well, excited and scared” and she still ponders “though scary is exciting, nice is different than good”. Johnny Depp as the wolf is slimy enough that I was made uncomfortable. I personally think that the sequence worked on a level innocent enough for kids, but dark enough for the adults looking for something more.

I’ve seen a lot of hubbub about the play being feminist or anti-feminist. I would like to remind audiences that this play isn’t new news. It debuted in 1986. If you want to have a discussion about what is/is not “feminist”, you need to go back and take a look at what else was being performed and/or talked about in that year, not this one. Moreover, the capable female characters who drive the plot can hardly be called “damsels”. Yes, Cinderella is a character in the play and yes, she still has a love story with a semi-disinterested Prince Charming who stands for all things machismo…. But this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Again, I refer you to the long history of the Cinderella myth and the myriad of popular culture icons and tales which have been produced about and around it. Sondheim’s Cindy is kind, driven, and determined; all of which are salient qualities which prove invaluable to her as she deftly navigates the woods. Let’s not forget that she leaves her “perfect happy ending” because she finds out that her husband has cheated on her and that she chooses to do this despite the fact that her life will be monumentally more difficult without the Prince’s wealth and power to back her.

Musically, I think the film lends more clarity to Sondheim’s complicated lyrics than any stage play I’ve ever seen. Because of the magic of cinema, every single word of these often tongue-twistered songs was crystalline (I finally understood a portion of the witch’s rap that, despite years of trying, I had not yet gotten… who knew that “rampion” was an edible root?). Because the filmmakers were able to slow down some of the thicker passages, they read much more readily to the waiting ear. If historically you’ve taken issue with Sondheim’s music, I’d strongly recommend giving this film a shot; I think it will clear up a lot for you (and perhaps be able to provide a gateway to some of his other work).

By far my favorite portion of the film was “Agony”. Film as a medium just lends itself much more readily to satiric melodrama than stage. Which is not to say it’s impossible to pull off on the stage, just slightly more difficult. Anyway, I was in stitches the entire number and it’s well worth the price of a ticket to see two handsome princes compete for audience attention amidst a slew of water effects. I was slightly sad they cut the reprise because the number was so good that I wanted them to do it again.

There were, I will say, a surprising number of children in the audience. Let me reiterate that while this film is based on fairy tales, it is not a children’s movie to any extent. It deals with heavy and dark topics (rape, murder, infidelity, body mutilation…), and has big scary man-crushing giants. Your young children will be bored and/or scared, and will spend the entire film kicking the back of someone’s seat while you sit there pondering what, exactly, it was that you thought you were getting into.

Really all I can say about the experience is, to quote the witch, “Go to the Woods!”. Just leave small children at home. And don’t expect something the play didn’t give you; that’s just not fair.


*We’re cultural Jews rather than folks with any particular religious bent.

Happy, Merry, Healthy!

For those who were unaware, I really really love Christmas.

This may not be so odd until you consider that I’m an agnostic raised by Jews.

My deep love of all things Christmas extends to food, music, lights, celebrations, traditional flora, decorating, movies, gift giving, literature, and theatre.

This year, to celebrate the holidays with you (my wonderful readers) I was determined to

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit.  It's up year-round at the flagship store.

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit. It’s up year-round at the flagship store.

provide a list of opening lines to my favorite Christmas tales.  While I am a little bit late on this, you’ll have to forgive me (Santa seems to have brought me a nasty cold).  Since literature is ever lasting anyway, you can perhaps consider this as your first step towards detoxing from egg nog and Yule logs.

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore (1823):

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843):

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868):

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. 

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (1957):

Every Who Down in Whoville Liked Christmas a lot…
But the Grinch,Who lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Romeo Muller and Robert May (1964):

If I live to be a hundred, I’II never be able to forget that big snowstorm a couple of years ago.  The weather closed in, and, well, you might not believe it, but the world almost missed Christmas.  Oh, excuse me. Call me Sam.  What’s the matter?  Haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz (1965):

It was finally Christmastime, the best time of the year. The houses were strung with tiny colored lights, their windows shining with warm yellow glow only Christmas could bring. The scents of pine needles and hot cocoa mingled together, wafting through the air, and the sweet sounds of Christmas carols could be heard in the distance.

 Fluffy white snowflakes tumbled from the sky onto a group of joyful children as they sang and laughed, skating on the frozen pond in town. Everyone was happy and full of holiday cheer. That is, everyone except for Charlie Brown.

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton (1993):

 ‘Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams.  For the story that you are about to be told, took place in the holiday worlds of old.  Now, you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from.  If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Love Actually by Richard Curtis (2003):

 Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport. General opinion started to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy but it’s always there.

Obviously I could go on, but I’ll leave it there lest you wind up reading until next Christmas.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday, and that you were gifted with everything you could have possibly wanted!

Please note: I will be away for a week celebrating with my family.  I won’t be checking in here, but I’ll be back in the New Year to continue coverage from the front.  Have a happy and healthy one, and catch you in 2014!


Christmas won’t be Christmas without Research, Grumbled Dani

So, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, tomorrow is Christmas Eve.

Also, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, a lot of places are closed tomorrow and Wednesday.

I mention this only because it completely crept up on me and I had banked on this entire week to get some work done in order to appease the research panic I’m currently working through.  I knew I needed access to a bunch of things but was pretty casual about when I actually got that access.  Except next week I’ll be going to New York to spend some time with my family because apparently Christmas doesn’t happen on Christmas if you’re a member of my family and you thereby need to celebrate it on viable days when archives happen to be open instead of closed.

So that whole week that I thought I had is instead three days.  Unless I was smart and got a bunch of archive stuff done today, Monday, before it closed.  And by “a bunch” I mean I need to page through about thirty years’ worth of material to analyze a couple patterns I’m tracking.  I also needed to pick up a few ILL books that had arrived.  Which basically meant that, unless I got my cute behind to the library today, I was going to be caught in a grinding halt for the entirety of Christmas (you know, whatever time I found in those two days to eke work out).  I time-manage best when I have piles of work I can do, even if I don’t necessarily have the time to get through them.

Sure.  I thought, No problem.  Archive day Monday then I’ll be good to go for the break.  No.  Big.  Deal.

A couple observations:

Okay; see those four shelves of GIANT GREEN BOOKS in the middle?  Yea.  That was "a day's work".  Hah.

Okay; see those four shelves of GIANT GREEN BOOKS in the middle? Yea. That was “a day’s work”. Hah.

If a publication is a monthly publication, thirty years is a lot of material to look through.  Like… a lot.  Like… an impossible amount.  For one day at least.

Campus is really deserted today.  Like… ghost town.  Kinda creepy deserted.  I have an entire floor of the library to myself.

Which leads me to believe that if I do stay after closing today (five PM because the library apparently operates by normal business hours during intersession rather than the “yea we’re open like all the time forever” hours that I’m used to), nobody would really notice my presence down here in bound periodicals.  I could spend Christmas happily paging through and doing my research by the light of my laptop.

….anyone feel like delivering a Christmas goose to Tisch Library?  If you need me, I’ll be buried under this pile of periodicals.

Not Yet Dead

This is an obligatory “I’m not dead” post (also, incidentally, my first post of the post-apocalyptic 2013…. If we think of this year as “post-apocalyptic”, it’s guaranteed to make no matter what happens at least 50% more magical and 25% more awesome).

Since I got home from New York, things have been rather quiet.

I’m clearing off my desk, I’m sending e-mails that I had been putting off, I’m having meetings that had to wait until after finals, and I’m catching up on quality me-time.

I’m getting my knitting docket all lined up for the semester, I’m kicking off some exciting projects (can you say “eight person Twelfth Night”!?  Stay tuned!), I’m ordering my books, I’m obsessively checking online grading system, I’m trying my darndest not to think about German or Comps for another week.

I’m getting my gym and eating habits back on line, I’m catching up with old friends who

my favorite shot from New York: the Union Square Holiday Market (best experienced while sipping Italian Dark hot Chocolate from Max Brenner's which, by the way, I was)

my favorite shot from New York: the Union Square Holiday Market (best experienced while sipping Italian Dark hot Chocolate from Max Brenner’s which, by the way, I was)

got sacrificed under the finals bus (and were nice enough to understand), I’m mentally resetting and preparing for the last semester of coursework for my PhD.

I’m learning to use my brand shiny new cappuccino machine (thanks, mom and dad!), I’m getting my new computer set up with my docking station (again, thanks to the best daddy on the face of the planet), I’m trying to figure out how to get icloud to sync my calendars without fubaring things (surprisingly difficult given apple’s generally idiot-proof interfacing).

I’m podcasting ( in case you hadn’t heard), I’m rehearsing, I’m web committee chairing, I’m reviewing syllabi for my Spring TA assignment.

On the whole, I’m doing my best to rest and rejuvenate.  I’m also aligning things so that all of my projects are on a roll before the semester starts and thus will not need extra kicking to begin rolling down long bumpy hills when I’m in the middle of paper-drafting or midterms-grading or any number of inevitable things that the semester brings with it.

I highly recommend that you do the same.

The semester will soon be upon us and we all need to be prepared for its onset.

After the End Times

If you are reading this, it means that I have survived finals.

Well, actually, it means that the programming on my website didn’t fail me as I scheduled it to post this entry at a time after which I would have turned in my last paper and during which I would be in a car driving home to New York for the holidays and, since blogging while driving is not something that computers have figure out yet (I’m confident that Siri will change this soon), decided that was my best course of action.

Life: I'm doing it right

Life: I’m doing it right

Here is a still-life I managed to capture of my desk the other day (completely not posed, just how my desk looked at the time).  Yes, that is my ukulele and those are my chord charts.  Yes, that is a nineteenth century print of an engraving depicting Act V of As You Like It sent to me by my Academic Fairy Godfather.  Yes, my tape dispenser is in the shape of a black platform stiletto.  As far as I’m concerned, this picture is proof-positive that whatever life choices I’ve made which lead to this moment are absolutely correct.  A pretty validating thought for the end of my last fall semester of coursework.

This semester’s been tougher than I thought it would be.  That said, I learned a lot, met some really interesting people, and have some shiny new projects to get me through the winter/Spring.

So, since I’m done, I’m taking a short break to be with my family for a week.  I promise I’ll be back after the holiday.  For now, have a watch of this “holiday card” I prepared for you (…when I say I’m only a “passable ukulele player” I really do mean it, so please take this as a sort of “amusing anecdotal internet offering” rather than any sort of masterpiece…. I know I messed it up at least once).

Happy holidays, happy finals being over, and happy take-a-friggen-break.  You deserve it!

Lost of love,


A Christmas Rant

With the holidays coming up, I feel the need to put my two cents into the universe about where your hard-earned money should be spent should you decide that purchasing theatre tickets for your loved ones is a worthwhile endeavor.  It totally is, by the by, and if you’re not considering this course of action, maybe you will now.

For those long-term readers, you may recall my rage-inducing trip to the

I know it's that time of year because I got to help put up a Christmas Tree!

I know it’s that time of year because I got to help put up a Christmas Tree!

Harvard Revels last year.  Now that we’ve come full circle (as I write this, I’m sitting in the Houghton Library reading room at Harvard and can see that they’ve once again decorated the square with vibrant twinkling lights), I find myself revisiting this rage every moment I so much as think of the experience, the institution, or the fact that hundreds of people will (once again) flood to this theatrical venue.

So let’s get one thing straight: the Harvard Revels, while it may have started out as a benign force of the community, is currently the most deplorable form of theatrical spectacle.  The travesty that I had the misfortune to witness (and pay WAY too much for) last year should never have been allowed to be birthed into the realm of theatre.  The acting was atrocious, the costuming was spotty at best (there were people wearing PAINTER’S PANTS and SNEAKERS onstage in a PERIOD PIECE), and the institution builds into its traditions a forced standing ovation for every show.  I have never in my life witnessed something more manipulative, more upsetting, and more betraying to its hard-working loyal audience.

And here’s the worst part: because this is a Christmas Tradition for some people, this institution will (once again) have an audience.  Despite putting on a product that I would describe as “an aborted attempt at holiday cheer”, they will once more play to a PACKED HOUSE.  Audiences are so intoxicated by the rosey-hued glasses of Christmas tradition that it will not matter if the Revels had an off year, people will pay anyway.

Because of this, the Revels has no impetus to change.  They will be a commercial success no matter what show they put on.  And that, my friends, is where theatre goes to die.

Okay, I take it back, maybe this is the worst part: this show is the only show that I would venture most of those hundreds of audience members will see in a given year.  That means that their theatre budget is allocated specifically for a show that does not care about them.  This show will be flat, stale, uninspired, and continually produced Christmas schlock until someone does something about it.

Theatre is only interesting and vibrant when it is fighting for its life.  The

...and, for the first time ever, a Christmas Village!  Much more exciting if you consider that this is about ten feet off the ground in a window ledge and required ladder-work to assemble...

…and, for the first time ever, a Christmas Village! Much more exciting if you consider that this is about ten feet off the ground in a window ledge and required ladder-work to assemble…

Revels have not, as far as I can tell, had to do this for decades.  Give them a year scrounging on Community Theatre budget and they will get creative or die.  And from that will be birthed something real, genuine, and amazing to see.

So I beg you.  I implore you.  Do not support this abuse of the name of “theatre”.  If you would like to take your loved ones to see a show, consider one of the many other productions going on in Boston at this time.  Here are just a few…

The ART is producing Pippin (which, I’ve heard, is spectacular and I will be going to see).

A certain Shakespeare company is producing Two Gentleman of Verona and, while I have no particular love for this company, I do love this show.  Support struggling Boston Shakespeare!

The Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater is producing Arabian Nights which I’ve heard great things about.

The Improv Asylum is doing a Holiday Show if you want something a little more traditional.  They always have great programming (and classes!).

Theatre is a struggling art form.  Your ticket-buying is the life-blood of the struggling company.  Please consider that, while the Revels loom large and ugly, the money spent on their over-priced Holiday travesty could save a small company and create a better theatre community here in Boston.

No Reason to Revel….

Last night, I saw a traditional Boston Christmas staple; The Christmas Revels.

Unfortunately, “tradition” does not always equate “quality”.

So, I’ll admit to a personal bias.  Over-produced theatre always makes me skeptical.  When I pay over $30 for a ticket (especially when I’m not even paying for the best seats in the house), when I receive a program that has pages upon pages of benefactors listed, when I walk in to a BIG BEAUTIFUL GIGANTIC theatre, I expect a certain level of quality.  What I expect from a piece is in direct proportion to the amount of resources at the piece’s disposal.

Walking in to the Sanders Theatre at Harvard is an experience in itself.  The theatre (so claimeth Harvard) was designed as a lecture and commencement hall, but it feels more


like a converted cathedral.  It has lofty arched ceilings, beautiful stained glass, and pulpit seating.  Also, it’s a wooden theatre.

My love for wooden theatres is a love that cannot be paralleled.  Wood brings life to a theatre (and the acoustics which it provides are simply unmatched).  It feels homey, comfortable, a theatre that could give you a hug.

Sanders is a three-quarter round with only one fault that I can tell: the sightlines.  It’s designed in Elizabethan style which means that it has a pit, a mezzanine, and a balcony supported by columns which jet through the mezz.  Of course, the columns are an obvious sight obstruction, but the balcony itself is poorly designed.  It isn’t raked steeply enough to give anyone but those lucky enough to be sitting front and center full viewing of the stage.  Myself and my companion, seated mid-balcony, missed about a third of the performance due to failure to accommodate to these sightlines.

This, granted, is a problem that anyone could have.  And (to be fair) certain seats are marked as “partial viewing”, but our seats were not among those.  One would think that an organization which has performed out of a certain theatre for forty-one years would understand the space constraints of said theatre and make arrangements accordingly.

The performance itself seemed haphazard and lazy.  It was clumsily written (they write a new show every year), jamming together elements that they, as an institution, were required to include due to audience expectations in a graceless mish-mosh of near incomprehensibility.  The performers themselves lacked energy and what talent they had was eclipsed by an apparent need for more rehearsal.  The principle players lacked training to accomplish the demands of their roles (one, an unspeaking clown, often devolving into nonverbal diarrhea rather than anything funny or meaningful).  I doubt I saw a single performer smile for the entire performance.

The dance numbers were a travesty.  The performers had some grace but lacked synchronicity so they became an unpolished mess.

The sets were beautiful, but the costumes were odd.  Some were lovely, others included five-pocket khakis and sneakers (… in a period piece).

In all honesty, I felt like I was watching a big-budget high school production.  Except I was out $45 a seat.

There were a few interesting elements to the show.  Revelshas a sort of audience call and response sing-back tradition; there are several songs included in the show every year which the audience is expected to sing with the performers.  Lyrics are included in your program, and the house lights are brought up to full during these numbers so that one may read the lyrics.  Being in a theatre with 1,165 other audience members singing along with what was going on is a pretty fantastic experience.  In addition, the first act wraps up with a catchy song and a farandol which extends into the lobby.  Everyone rises and

Imagine this lobby filled with people dancing.... truly spectacular.

participates, filling the giant lobby packed full of dancing people.  It’s joyous and spontaneous (and truly wonderful to participate in).  If the rest of the show had been as delightful as that moment, I would be writing an extremely different review.

There is, of course, an easy solution to my giant frustration: lower ticket prices.  Yes, I would have paid $20 for a partial-view of the travesty that occurred onstage.  I might have even been lukewarmly entertained.  When I mentioned these things to my companion, he reminded me that the Revels was something of an institution and thereby could charge whatever they wanted because people would pay it.

Cue rage.  World-leveling rage.  The anger of a thousand torch-bearing French peasants.  So… just because people had been coming to this thing for however many years as part of their personal Christmas traditions meant that they would come next year.  Which meant the cardinal rule of theatre would be obeyed: butts would be put in seats.  Which meant that yes, they could charge whatever they wanted.



I ran a struggling no-budget theatre company.  I know what kind of dedication it takes to making something go with no money or resources.  Having money, backers, a captive audience, that’s a pretty cushy deal in the theatre (and a rare one at that).  How can you let that audience down?  How can you, even for a moment, allow anything to stand between you and a quality production?

…and you know the worst part?  This audience WILL COME BACK NEXT YEAR hoping that it will be better, or hopped up on enough drugs (apparently I missed the distribution of the happy-pills at the entry) to think that they witnessed a passable (or even good) production.

No.  After a show like this, this organization should be condemned to performing in church basements until they produce something worth their audience.  Successful theatre companies need to remember what it’s like to be starving.  That kind of pressure, that kind of intensity, feeds the creative spirit in a way that no amount of donors can.

If you went to dinner at a restaurant, even if it was your favorite restaurant, and the food

You can see the nifty set in the background and some of the more spectacular costumes

came out cold, the service was poor, and nobody was there to help you when you found a bug in your salad, would you go back?  Theatre should be the same way.

I urge you.  I plead with you.  Do not bring your patronage to this establishment (or any who fail to produce something palatable) until they have re-earned it.

…on a completely different note…. I’m off on vacation for two weeks.  I may check in (or I may take a much-needed break), but either way I hope you have a fantastic Holiday (whatever it may be that you celebrate) and a literary new year!  This opportunity also affords me to utilize the following societal hackneye…

“Danielle, you just finished your first semester of your PhD!  What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to Disney World!”