June 2013


I should probably play the real lottery.

 

Yesterday, I submitted my name to the virtual lottery to get tickets for the Public Forum at the Delacorte Theater titled “What are we worth? Shakespeare, money and morals.” It was a one-night event where a handful of ridiculously talented and well known actors read monologues or performed a scene from several Shakespeare plays and then Harvard professor Michael Sandel led a public forum about money’s influence in society (more specifically creating market-based entities where there should/should not be).

 

Though I am not as well versed in my Shakespeare as I could be, I was hoping to see the event because when else would I get a chance to see Alan Alda or Matt Damon reading Shakespeare?

 

Well, needless to say, I won the lottery and my theater buddy friend and I ended up with fourth row tickets to this one night only event.

 

To put it simply, but not really so – the whole experience was interesting.

 

I couldn’t get over how great our seats were, but somehow I let myself just be in the moment.

 

The event was split into two halves, the first being the actors performing Shakespeare. After a brief introduction to the play and scene the actor(s) would be performing, said actor would come out on stage and do a dramatic (or comedic) reading of some passage that dealt with money (and usually some sort of corruption).

 

To be honest, of all the work that was performed, I had only ever seen/read Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice, but there were other plays that I actually never heard of (whoops). All the same, it didn’t really matter what the source was – it was the messages about money and the realities about how Shakespeare’s words still ring true today. I’m not going to say that he was ahead of his time… but I will say that it’s amazing how we are continuing to deal with the same financial woes he wrote of back in the day.

 

I actually found it really ironic to watch monetarily sound actors perform pieces about money troubles. It got even more interesting during the public forum part, but I’ll get to that later.

 

The first actor out on stage was Raul Esparza. I kept my flailing internal as I watched him perform some monologue from some play I hadn’t heard of. His character talked about how people having a lot of money was a sin, but eventually came around to the thought that he wouldn’t mid if he had a lot of money. While the words were powerful (oh, Shakespeare), I selfishly was just taking in Esparza and thinking about how grateful I was to be seeing him in person again (I saw him in Company years ago) and pinching myself that I’ll see him onstage next month in The Cradle Will Rock. He’s captivating and you kind of just have to watch him.

 

Next out on stage was Christine Baranski. Again, I knew not what play she was reading from, but her passage was about how money corrupts – how it is responsible for making and breaking religions and is the source of a lot of trouble, and yet it is just some small thing. (I mean, really – have you thought about that… money is a coin, or a piece of paper, or a plastic card. It’s an object on which we’ve placed so much importance that people and countries have been destroyed over or because of it.) It was a real thrill to see Baranski perform. Sure, it was just a monologue, but the woman has such a presence.

 

Alan Alda was next. He had, by far, the shortest monologue of the night. I honestly can’t tell you what he talked about because in that moment I was just a fan, gobsmacked by the fact that Hawkeye was 30 feet away from me.

 

Gloria Ruben performed next. I believe she performed something from The Tempest. I can’t remember what she said, but I know I clapped just as hard for her as everyone else. She’s another actor whose work I have respected for years and I just couldn’t believe I was sitting so close to the stage.

 

And then there was Vanessa Redgrave. Flawless woman is flawless. Ms. Redgrave performed both parts in the Romeo and Juliet scene where Romeo goes to the Apothecary to buy the vile of poison. The key lines that would be brought up later during the Forum were “It is my poverty and not my will that consents” and “I pay thy poverty and not thy will.” I was blown away by Ms. Redgrave’s performance for several reasons. Firstly, she was mostly off book. Though she held her script in her hands, she did not consult it much. Secondly, her script was in her hands and not a binder (like everyone else). Thirdly, she actually performed the scene. She walked out onto the stage as Romeo, looking for the Apothecary. She even shouted at one point, trying to get his attention. Watching her perform, you could kind of pretend she was both parts because she’s just that great. I was thrilled to be seeing her perform again, having seen her in The Revisionist Off-Broadway a few months ago. She’s one of those people who you can’t help but to admire and think is the bee’s knees.

 

And then, there were five.

 

The last performance of the night was a lengthy scene from The Merchant of Venice that featured the final five performers – Marsha Stephanie Blake, Lily Rabe, Jesse L. Martin, Matt Damon and Hamish Linklater. It was the scene where three suitors must choose between three caskets in order to marry Portia. One of the caskets is gold, one is silver and one is lead. Each casket has an inscription on it, and the correct casket has Portia’s likeness inside. The suitors who choose the wrong casket must give up their attempts to court Portia. One of the suitors is someone who Portia actually loves, so it’s a hot mess for a bit, as she’s worried someone else will choose the right casket. However, two of the suitors are assholes and are so selfish and greedy, that they (spoiler alert) pick the wrong caskets. So, it all works out in the end.

 

Jesse L. Martin played the Prince of Morocco, who chooses the gold casket that reads, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.” His rational is that many man desire Portia, ergo that is the correct casket. Martin was fun to watch, as he played his role with such arrogance but was wearing jeans and a beanie and looked exactly how I always thought he himself would look in person.

 

Matt Damon played the Prince of Arragon. Before he got up to read his part, he popped in a piece of gum and threw his gum wrapped on the ground near his chair. His prince smacked his gum, had an annoying laugh and was smug as hell. And while it was funny to see Damon’s creative choices, part of me wondered if he relied so heavily on the humor because Damon himself stuck out like a sore thumb among the performers. I’m not saying his performance was bad (because it wasn’t by any means), I’m just saying that everyone else on that stage has EXTENSIVE stage work behind them and performing in front of a few thousand people like that might not be his forte as much as film work is. That being said, it was a real treat to see Damon perform. He’s definitely someone I’ve always wanted to see perform in person some how, but I never thought I would get that opportunity.

 

Anyway, The Prince of Arragon chooses the silver casket that reads, “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.” Thinking he deserves Portia, he opens the casket to find he has chosen poorly.

 

And then there was Hamish.

 

Hamish Linklater played the third suitor, Bassanio. Portia wants him to pick the right casket and even offers to coach him on how to choose. He, however, asks to be allowed to pick the casket on his own and by doing so, he goes for the lead casket. Once he opens it, he is rewarded with Portia’s picture, as well as her hand. This scene is one of those morality tales about how just because something is fancy and shiny, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. Also, arrogant, selfish men do not always get what they want. I always have problems with these kinds of scenes because of how the men treat women like property to be won, but that’s a horse of a different color and I shan’t go on a tangent about gender inequality when the main focus of the night was money and morals.

 

It is an understatement when I write that I was smitten with Hamish Linklater (and his brief performance as Bassanio). He was the last actor to partake in the scene and it was fun to watch him watch the others. He legitimately cackled at some of Jesse L. Martin and Matt Damon’s shtick, but then wholly embodied Bassanio. As soon as he stood up to interact with Portia, my heart melted a lot. The way he was looking at her as she rambled was the kind of silent performance you see in the movies right as the music swells and true love conquers all. He looked at her like she was his everything and I wanted to switch places with her, if only for a few seconds. Linklater proceeded to dishevel himself while on stage. Hands ran through his hair, causing it to stick up even more that it already was, which looked appropriate as his shirt was wrinkled giving his overall appearance a rumpled look. I liked Bassanio in the movie, but I kinda liked him onstage too…

 

And with that, the acting portion of the evening was over.

 

Gears shifted slightly and Michael Sandel was introduced. Turns out he had Matt Damon as a student when Damon was at Harvard (which will come into play later) and he’s really good at public speaking. Sandel engaged the crowd in some spirited discussion and debate about the creation of a market economy in instances that might not need it. There were two prominent debates. One was whether there should be a sanctioned market for selling kidneys, the other was whether school kids should be given incentives (like money) to get good grades or read books.

 

Both discussions could be whittled down to the “Haves” and “Have Nots” debate. People were saying that if selling kidneys were legal, poor people would do it because they need money. (As in, it became less about consent and more about a financial need.) As for kids getting paid to get good grades and read, it was mentioned that kids who are more well off anyway are the ones who have better access to books (and the ability to read), or that paying a kid to read would take away their intrinsic want to read. Like, reading would be a chore to do to get money, and that later in life, if no one was going to be paying them, then why should they read?

 

There is likely no completely right or wrong answer to these debates, but I think the point was to get people talking. I love reading and have loved reading since I was a child. No one had to bribe me to read. Same goes with getting good grades. I never got paid for getting good grades – my “payment” was the promise that working hard in school would allow me to get into college and then have a good job. Now, SOME of that was true. (I did get into college with a bunch of scholarships and stuff and now have two degrees… but as for having a good job. Yeah, no. That was all lies.)

 

Later in the discussion, Sandel brought Damon up on stage and the two of them started talking baseball. They mused how back in the 70s, you could go see a game and bleacher seats would be a dollar and better seats were about $3.50. They said how everybody – regardless of social status – ate the same crappy stadium food, stood in line for the same bathroom and basically had the same ballpark experience. Then they commented how nowadays, it’s ridiculous how much money it costs to go see a baseball game and how bleacher seats cost a lot of money, but then there are skyboxes for those with money who have catered food and their own private bathrooms. The rich and the not so rich are no longer on an even keel at the ballpark, and it’s because of money. Enjoying America’s pastime will never be the same again because it costs an arm and a leg to attend a game, and because of monetary segregation groups of people are being left out.

 

Earlier I mentioned how it was really ironic watching these actors perform monologues and scenes about money and its effects on people and society. As someone who is basically living near the poverty line, it was a mind trip watching Matt Damon and Michael Sandel talk about monetary factors with regard to going to a baseball game. These guys have money. A lot of money. And they can likely go sit in a skybox whenever they want.

 

I always find it fascinating when people who have means talk about people who don’t, as it is frustrating and amusing at the same time (I equate it to watching old crusty male politicians talking about women’s rights issues…).

 

No questions really got answered at last night’s forum, but I think the whole point was to get people talking or at least thinking. For example – I have no money, but I often wonder if someday when I have money, if that would change me as a person. I sure hope not.

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So, as pure luck would have it, I am friend with someone who had two tickets she couldn’t use to the 2013 Tony Awards dress rehearsal. When she asked me if I wanted them, I pretty much said “OH MY GOODNESS, YES” and then I asked my theater buddy, Antoinette, if she wanted the other ticket. She said yes… and then somehow magically got two ridiculously cheap tickets to Murder Ballad (an Off-Broadway musical we were jonesing to see). So, Sunday June 9th was a day of ALL THE THEATER.

 

And it was magical.

 

Going to the Tony Awards is on my actual Bucket List. I would still like to attend the ceremony itself one day, but going to the dress rehearsal definitely fulfilled a life-long dream to be at the Tonys.

 

The dress rehearsal was the entire show, full-out. Neil Patrick Harris was there, in wardrobe, and did the opening number with all the ensembles/casts from the nominated musicals and other musicals that are still running on Broadway. We heard all his jokes, saw him do his shtick (including the BRILLIANT and funny music number with Andrew Rannells, Laura Benanti, and Megan Hilty), and watched him be the professional performer that we know him to be.

 

It was thrilling, to say the least, to be able to watch the music numbers of all the shows. For as many shows as I see on Broadway, I only saw two of the nominees for Best Musical. So, while it was great to see the ensembles from Kinky Boots and Matilda perform again, I was delighted to see snippets of the shows I missed, those I won’t see, or those I want to see. I still can’t really tell you what Pippin is about, but I do know that seeing all those acrobats in person was something I’m not likely to forget. (And can we talk about Patina Miller?! Holy smokes.)

 

I have never seen The Phantom of the Opera, nor do I plan on seeing it any time soon, but it was really amazing to see the Phantom and Christine singing among the clouds of dried ice on that boat thing. I wasn’t planning on seeing Annie, but it was a treat to see Jane Lynch come out and sing a piece of “Little Girls.” I was sad to have missed Bring It On: The Musical while it was on Broadway, but I was overjoyed to watch the cast perform my favorite song from the show – “It’s All Happening.”

 

Mostly I was over the moon to see the casts from Matilda and Kinky Boots perform again. I saw Kinky Boots in previews (more specifically, I saw its fifth preview, where the cast was pretty much begging people at the stage door to tell our friends about the show) and thought it was the most fun show I’ve ever had at a Broadway show. I would love to see it again, but even getting the chance to see them perform “Everybody Say Yeah” yesterday was enough to make my smiles hurt. Kinky Boots is the show that I keep telling people to see, and I knew it had to walk away with multiple awards last night. (I was so pleased when Cyndi Lauper won for her score, Billy Porter won for Best Actor in a Musical, and it took Best Musical. The show is FLAWLESS and amazing.)

 

It was great to see Matilda’s performance as well. “Revolting Children” is my favorite song from the show, and I love that I can pick out Taylor Trensch and Ryan Steele from the ensemble. It’s fun watching people you’ve met or seen a few times getting the chance to perform at the Tonys. I know I’m “lucky” in that I live in NYC now and have more of an opportunity to see a lot of these performers on an oddly regular basis, but it’s still a thrill to see actors you admire getting to show the world just how good at their jobs that they are.

 

I saw someone’s post online earlier today saying that they love the Tonys because it’s one of the few awards shows where the people nominated get to share their skills with everyone else. Like the Grammys, the Tonys are a venue for the performers to perform for their peers and the home audience. It’s a way to actively show what they do for a living and show that they love what they do. I mean, I love the Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmys, but those often come across as pageants for pretty people who get paid a lot and wear fancy clothes and get free swag. The Tonys (and Grammys) showcase why these people are put on pedestals by the fans, and why the people in the Broadway (and music) community embrace said community. It’s neat to see a large group of people encouraging each other for the sake of their art. Creative expression is a beautiful thing, and to watch people use every fiber of their being to tell stories is special – especially when you get the chance to see something performed live in person.

 

Another fun thing about the dress rehearsal was seeing if the presenters were actually there when their names were announced. Some of them were not, but a lot of them were! We got to see Zachary Quinto, Jesse Eisenberg, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jane Krakowski, Anna Kendrick, Sally Fields, Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters!

 

If being able to sit through the dress rehearsal of the Tony Awards wasn’t enough theatrical excitement for the day, seeing Murder Ballad definitely was icing on the theater-going cake.

 

All I knew about Murder Ballad was that it had Will Swenson and Cassie Levy, got Meh reviews from the lady I saw talking about it on New York 1, and takes place in and around a bar. From the snippets I saw on TV, the show takes place on a “stage,” but said stage is set up like a bar, and there are tables and chairs next to the bar and pool table. There are rows of seats surrounding three sides of the stage area (the fourth side holds the band) and then there are audience members sitting at the tables and chairs next to the bar.

 

We had tickets for the center table directly next to the bar.

 

As soon as we were seated, we were told by someone in the crew that where we were sitting, especially the aisle in between our table and the bar, was going to be used by the actors during the show. As such, we were not allowed to have any personal items on the table, we were not allowed to have anything in the aisle, and we weren’t allowed to leave during the performance. (Or, rather, if you left, you couldn’t get back to your seat.)

 

We had about ten minutes before the show started so we looked around from our seats near the bar. A stranger who was separated from his own party ended up at the table with us. We made small talk, but then it was time for the show to start.

 

Murder Ballad is performed by four cast members (two female, two male) completely through song. I did not know any of the songs heading into the show, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out their general gist. A girl was hooking up with a bartender, but then their relationship went sour. She then ended up with this scholarly guy and they got married and had a kid. Several (ten?) years down the road, the girl runs into the bartender and they hook up. She feels bad and wants to end it because she has a family, but the bartender guy gets a bit crazy and tells her she is his. There is a big confrontation between the three people and you think someone is going to get clubbed to death with a baseball bat. The fourth cast member is the narrator who provokes the other characters as she provides exposition. The whole musical is a cautionary tale, though most people would likely never find themselves in this situation.

 

I was excited to see this show because of Will Swenson. Having never seen him in anything before, I was very much looking forward to seeing him perform. He is a great actor with unfairly good looks (like, he looks like Jon Hamm, but with even better hair…) and his voice is equally gorgeous. There was something oddly electric and wholly terrifying to be sitting that close to the action as he chased Cassie Levy’s character about the stage, or simulated having sex with her on the bar mere feet away from me. It was a completely new theatrical experience to be sitting in the middle of the choreographed chaos around me… I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it definitely added something to the viewing experience and perhaps made me like the show more than I would have if I just was watching it from a “regular” seat.

 

After the show, we hung around the stage door and were able to get autographs and pictures with some of the cast. It was a great way to end our amazingly fun day of theater-going.

 

As I walked home, exhausted from the long day of seeing all the things, I realized that in that moment and for that day, I was wholly glad to be myself. This is not a daily occurrence (for example, as I’m typing this, I wish I was anyone but myself, having just sat through something I wish I didn’t have to see/feel), but yesterday I was just blissfully happy to be me because if I wasn’t me, I never would have gotten a chance to see what I saw and just be surrounded by theater.

 

Someday I hope to be financially stable enough to see a show anytime I wanted to. For now, though, I shall be forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, the shows I’ve gotten to see, and the friends I’ve seen shows with.

Every day at work, I make a “To Do” list to remind myself what I need to get done before I leave for the day. It’s basically the same list every day, but I like crossing things off, ergo I make a new list when I get in in the morning. (I have OCD tendencies and am aware of that.)

 

On today’s list, I added something new – “Don’t cry.”

 

I have been on the verge of bursting into tears for a majority of the week but have doing a pretty good job of keeping my feelings in check these last few days. I have a feeling tonight the levee will break and I’ll cry my way through a decent amount of tissues. I just need a release, but I know crying at work is not the best time/place to do so.

 

I almost lost it on the train this morning. I was watching an older woman meticulously put her makeup on. She had so many tubes and powders and stuff and I just stood there, listening to my iPod and wondering if I don’t have a boyfriend because the only makeup I put on is concealer and a powder to set it. 

 

Crazy, right?

 

And the thing is, I *know* it’s crazy (and wrong) to think that. But my mind goes ahead and thinks it anyway. 

 

My sister got married last month. It was a really sweet ceremony and I am a big fan of the man she married because he is good people. My brother got married in October (and I love his wife) and my parents will be celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary in August. 

 

I am now officially the seventh wheel.

 

And while there is no pressure from my family or close group of friends for me to tie the knot any time soon, there are questions from acquaintances and people at work (i.e. my boss) who think it’s funny to joke around that I need to lock down a husband soon because I’m now behind.

 

People shouldn’t joke about stuff like that because these stupid thoughts already are running through the head of the lone single person. And guess what? It’s not funny to feel like the odd man out. It’s not funny to joke that no one wants you because that’s constantly weighing on the mind of the person who is forced to watch everyone else be all couple-y and cute with their significant other.

 

I’m not sad that I’m alone. (Okay, that’s a lie – I’m a little sad about it.) I’m sad to be constantly reminded that I’m alone. 

 

I’m alone and my work hours got cut. I’m alone, my work hours got cut and I got screamed at by a woman at work. I’m alone, my work hours got cut, I got screamed at by a woman at work and it hurts to breathe because there has been a feeling of extreme pressure in my chest lately.

 

See how depressing that last paragraph was? That (and more) is going through my head on a loop.

 

To be honest, though, I have a lot of stuff going for me. 

 

The thing is, it is always easier to focus on the negative things that are going on in one’s life. 

 

I’m a happy person. I have a family who loves me. I have some great friends who make living in NYC a lot less lonely. I’ve been able to see some really great things and experience some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities because of who I am and where I am right now. I have a college education. I’m not homeless or broke (yet). I may not be working at my dream job, but I’m living in my favorite city and “making it” somehow.

 

My parents remind me of these things when I get down (which is often), and I have been trying really hard to think about the happy things instead of dwelling on the not so pleasant stuff going on right now. (Let me tell you, that is a challenge… and one I am usually failing.)

 

It doesn’t help that it’s all rainy today and I have a headache because of the amount of stuff I have going on in my head right now. I know I need to get it out, but I don’t know how. I should probably write it down… but I’m busy working on a couple scripts and I just outlined another novel-length story for my friends that I don’t want to waste any of my “free time” writing out my feelings when I could be working on something else. It’d be easier if I could just tell my issues to people, but I have problems being that open. I don’t have a person anymore who knows all my stuff. I tried asking my sister if she and I could have some one-on-one time during the week I spent w/her and the family surrounding her wedding, but we got interrupted after a few minutes and I definitely didn’t get a chance to say even a fraction of the things that I wanted to. But that conversation can’t be done over the phone… so I don’t know if/when I’ll get a chance to talk to her. 

 

I’m okay. Or at least I’m okay enough to still function like a mostly normal person. So even though it sometimes feels like my whole world is crumbling, I need to take a step back and realize that everything is not as bad as it seems or as bad as it could be.

 

So, I’m going to try really hard to think of the good things more than I think of the bad things. And hopefully at the end of the work day, I’ll be able to cross of “Don’t Cry” because I completed that task.

Though we covered Shakespeare in a few of my English classes in high school and I took a course on Shakespeare’s comedies in college, I had never read nor seen any version of The Comedy of Errors. After reading the synopsis, I knew I was in for a comedic treat, as though it is a simple story of mistaken identity, the physical comedy and clever dialogue pretty much guaranteed I was going to enjoy myself.

 

It was a lucky happenstance that I ended up with tickets to see The Comedy of Errors last Friday night, which is the first show of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park. I had tried – and failed – to get lottery tickets to the show. But, a friend ended up winning the ticket lottery and being unable to use her tickets for the show, so she gave them to me (thanks, Antoinette!). I, in turn, asked another friend to join me and we settled in our seats at the Delacorte in Central Park to watch some Shakespearean shenanigans unfold.

 

The plot is this – a shipwreck separates a family of two parents and their identical twin sons (who have identical twin servants). One son and one servant end up in one town, the other son and servant end up in another town, and the parents are separated from each other and their sons. Also, the sons have the same name, as do the servants… which causes all sorts of trouble seeing as one of the sons is married and his servant is in a relationship with a husky kitchen maid.

 

Utter confusion and miscommunication due to the mistaken identities sets in play a series of events that have characters getting into ridiculous situations. Everything is all a bit silly, but it’s a joy to watch due to the men who play the brothers (Hamish Linklater) and the servants (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). These actors work well together on stage (which was not a surprise as they’ve worked together before on The Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice back in 2010) and they have an ease about them which is a joy to watch. Each actor creates two very distinct characters and it’s very easy for the audience to recognize which brother they are playing at any given time.

 

Most people are probably familiar with Jesse Tyler Ferguson from ABC’s Modern Family. I saw him as Leaf Coneybear in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on Broadway years ago and have been a fan ever since. (Yes, I even watched The Class… and I told him as much.) Hamish Linklater made his Broadway debut in Seminar back in 2011, and I was lucky enough to have seen that as well. It was really fun getting to watch two stage actors who I was familiar with from other shows perform Shakespeare’s work.

 

Seeing a Shakespeare play is such a different experience than just reading it. Besides high school productions of Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, I saw Twelfth Night in college, and Hamlet and Macbeth on Broadway. For me, it’s so much easier to understand what’s going on when you can see people interacting with each other as opposed to just reading it on the page. Body language and an actor’s inflection as they speak allows an audience to piece together the general context of the dialogue (even if they may not understand all the words or phrases used). Yes, Shakespeare’s plays are written in English, but one must admit that sometimes you just don’t really get what he means upon an initial reading.

 

At our play on Friday night, the action was stopped about 20 minutes in because one of the set pieces was malfunctioning. (There are three revolving  buildings with multiple facades apiece on stage and the center building would not move.) We waited while they tried to fix it, but it was not fixed and in turn the actors improvised a few lines of dialogue to explain the lack of scene change. Live theater, folks… gotta love it!

 

 

If you are in New York City before June 30th, I highly recommend seeing The Comedy of Errors. It’s FREE and funny – you honestly can’t beat that. For ticketing information, check out http://www.shakespeareinthepark.org/