Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Noël Coward's "Private Lives" at Main Street Theater

Left to right: Skyler Sinclair as Sibyl, Alan Brincks as Elyot, Elizabeth Marshall Black as Amanda, and Joel Grothe as Victor. Photo credit: Main Street Theater.

Last Saturday I saw "Private Lives" at Main Street Theater in Rice Village. By necessity, this will be a short review that doesn't do the play justice, but I have to post it now because there are only four more performances left: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (August 8, 9, 10) at 7:30 pm, and a matinee on Sunday August 11 at 3 pm. I highly recommend it!

As far as I know, I'd never seen a Noël Coward play before this, but I had a vague idea that "Private Lives" would be something akin to a Neil Simon/Tom Stoppard-esque romantic comedy set in the 1930s. And that did turn out to be pretty close, which means it was right up my alley. The premise, as described by the MST website, is that "Elyot and Amanda, once married and now divorced, meet again while honeymooning with new spouses at the same hotel and discover the old flame still burns hotly." You can probably imagine what might ensue from that.

This is such a fun play! Elyot and Amanda, played beautifully by Alan Brincks and Elizabeth Marshall Black, are a ridiculous, overly dramatic pair, given to trading flowery declarations and hot-headed insults almost in the same breath. They share some terrific comedic moments that are enhanced by Main Street Theater's creative staging-in-the-round. And how challenging that must have been! When you have characters wrestling, tango-dancing, and throwing vases of water at each other only a few feet from the audience on all sides, well, you have to be pretty darn precise in your blocking. Kudos to director Claire Hart-Palumbo and the rest of the stage crew for that.

But back to the acting, I was seriously impressed by Alan Brincks as Elyot. His facial expressions were quick to change and spot-on, right down to popping veins in his forehead and neck when Elyot's temper gets the best of him. Skyler Sinclair and Joel Grothe, who portray the jilted newlyweds, have to play it fairly straight in Act 1 and appear only at the end of Act II, but it's worth the wait, because they really get to let loose in Act III with Sibyl's little-girl hysterics and Victor's pompous (and failing) determination to remain calm. And last but not least, Rebecca Greene Udden has a small part as a French housekeeper that may have elicited the loudest laughs of the evening.

I've said it before but it's worth repeating: Main Street Theater is a charming playhouse that puts on terrific productions. Go!

Elyot (Alan Brincks) and Amanda (Elizabeth Marshall Black).
Photo credit: Main Street Theater.

Read more!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Short fiction read in February 2019

Short Fiction read in February 2019

This blog post is dreadfully late; here it is April 2, and I'm just now posting about my February short fiction reading. I've kept up with the reading throughout March, but the posting, not so much. But I'm determined to keep with this project, even if I'm a little slow posting about it.

At any rate, my reading for February was a little unusual for me. As usual, I mostly read SF&F in February, but only one of the pieces I want to talk about falls in that category. The other two are a contemporary Japanese story in translation, and a British period piece published around 1927. I'll start with that last one.

"O Tempora! O Mores!" by E.M. Delafield

Length: 6,353 words (estimated based on word/page count)
Category: British period fiction (short story)
Where Published: The Entertainment and Other Stories (collection)
When Published: 1927 (anthology date)
Link: N/A

Years ago, I fell in love with E.M. Delafield's novel Thank Heaven Fasting -- long enough ago that I don't recall how I happened to stumble upon it. My copy is a Virago Modern Classic edition, and at one point I casually began acquiring those, but I can't remember if I started collecting them because I loved Delafield's novel and hoped to find more in the same vein, or if I was already collecting them and that's how I happened to come across Delafield's book.

No matter. I love that book. Love it. So much so that I can quote a great many lines from it. It's about a girl named Monica who makes her debut -- formally presented at court, to royalty, in London in the early 20th century. Monica's entire upbringing has been centered on making her attractive to eligible men, in a world where there aren't enough men to go around and girls often "get left."

It sounds so simple. But the story is beautifully complex.

In the intervening years, I've read additional Delafield novels; I'm even listed as "producing" the novel Consequences on Project Guternberg because I proofread the OCR text for the Girlebooks website several years ago. But it wasn't until last year that I learned she published at least two short story collections. Interlibrary Loan to the rescue! I read Love Has No Resurrections and Other Stories (1939) in September 2018, and I just finished The Entertainment and Other Stories (1927) a few days ago. Surprisingly to me, I found the earlier stories to be stronger. In both of these collections, most of the individual stories don't stand out in an obvious way, but all I have to do is read my one-line summary of each story and I can easily recall its characters and many of its details. This is in contrast to the fact that I often forget a genre story I've read within a day, if it doesn't truly grab me. In any case, Delafield writes of society girls, convent-raised girls, servants, and landladies, and makes them all come to life. She's realistic about class differences and rarely goes for the fairy tale ending. And I've only just begun to scratch the surface of her work.

As it happens, I only read three of the works in The Entertainment and Other Stories in time for February's reading round-up; the rest will be listed with my March short fiction reading. Of the three I read in February, I wanted to mention "O Tempora! O Mores!" in particular. In this story, Amabel Forrester is an upper-class young woman who does what such young women do; that is, she arranges flowers, does needlework, and waits for someone to propose. (This isn't far off from Austen's work in that regard.) By chance, she meets a young man while volunteering at an annual summer school day party for children that takes place at the vicarage. The young man, however, is the eldest son of a semi-local farming family; he had gone to Canada to seek his fortune and is back for a family visit. But upper class girls are not meant to mingle with farmers, so.... but I won't give away anything else on the off chance that someone wants to read up on Delafield. In the end, while I've come to love Jane Austen's work, I find Delafield's prose style much more accessible.

I'm so glad I was able to get this through Interlibrary Loan, because I truly enjoyed almost every story, which I can rarely say about any collection or anthology.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Length: 33,660 words (estimated based on word/page count)
Category: Contemporary Japanese fiction (novella)
Where Published: Grove Press (standalone work)
When Published: June 2018 (English language edition)
Link (Amazon book page)

This novella follows Keiko Furukawa, a Japanese woman in her thirties who is still working part-time at a convenience store instead of either getting married or pursuing a "real" job -- that is, "real" as defined by her parents and most of Japanese society. Even Keiko's managers, who value her absolute reliability and pride in her work, urge her to find something better. But while Keiko is not necessarily happy in the convenience store, she's comfortable there, and that's not nothing. The store's envirnoment supplies her with mechanisms for dealing with the social cues that she rarely understands. And the rules about engaging with customers are plain and simple, which is just what Keiko needs to fit in.

Nonetheless, the social pressure to find some ambition continues to grow, so Keiko tries an experiment: letting a man, whose employment at the convenience store is very short-lived, stay in her apartment so she can pretend she has a live-in boyfriend. If I have any complaints about this novella, it's that the man is such a jerk, but that is kind of the point. At any rate, this is a quick and compelling little read.

"Counting Days" by Patricia Lundy

Length: 989 words
Category: Science fiction (flash fiction)
Where Published: Daily Science Fiction
When Published: February 1, 2019
Link (free to readers)

Two young woman, one who cuts herself and one who hurts herself in a decidedly more science fictional way, learn to support each other in their efforts to cope with their self-harm compulsions.

In the past few years, I've gotten to know several people experiencing long-term, significant emotional pain, and I felt that this short piece captures that reality quite well. That's one of the things I love about speculative fiction -- it often examines very familiar topics in new ways.

Complete list of stories read in February 2019:

(alphabetical by author)
  1. "Bleed" by Brenda Joyce Anderson (2019)
  2. "Unraveling" by K.G. Anderson (2016)
  3. "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall" by Elizabeth Bear (2008)
  4. "Local Senior Celebrates Milestone" by Matthew Claxton (2019)
  5. "Taste" by Roald Dahl (1945)
  6. "The Entertainment" by E.M. Delafield (ca. 1927)
  7. "Incidental" by E.M. Delafield (ca. 1927)
  8. "O Tempora! O Mores!" by E.M. Delafield (ca. 1927)
  9. "Yona's Android" by Michelle Denham (2019)
  10. "The Debt" by Meg Elison (2018)
  11. "Childhood of a Famous Military Leader" by Jay Gershwin (2019)
  12. "Evening Star" By Paul Alex Gray (2017)
  13. "Give the Family My Love" by A.T. Greenblatt (2019)
  14. "Only in New York" by Libby Heily (2019)
  15. "Cherubim" by Julia Heslin (2019)
  16. "The Magician's Clown" by M.L. Kejera (2019)
  17. "Universal Print" by Fonda Lee (2015)
  18. "Counting Days" by Patricia Lundy (2019)
  19. "Convenience Store Woman" by Sayaka Murata (2016 Japanese; 2018 English)
  20. "Reach Out and Touch Someone" by Val Nolan (2019)
  21. "In September" by Aimee Ogden (2019)
  22. "A La Carte" by Joy Kennedy-O'Neill (2019)
  23. "Painwise" by Robert Reed (2019)
  24. "The Experiment" by Michael Adam Robson (2019)
  25. "How Much is Too Much?" by Paavo Saari (2019)
  26. "Gifts of Prometheus" by Alex Shvartsman (2019)
  27. "The Goblin" by Christina Sng (2019)
  28. "Ardent Clouds" by Lucy Sussex (2008)
  29. "3 Minutes" by Adam Walker (2019)
  30. "The Tentacle and You" by John Wiswell (2019)
  31. "Wet" by John Wiswell (2014)
  32. "Lullaby" by Lynden Xu (2019)

List of the sources from which these stories came: (alphabetical by anthology title, magazine title, website name, etc.)
  • Clarkesworld
  • Crossed Genres
  • Curious Fictions (fiction reprint website)
  • Daily Science Fiction
  • The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy (anthology, 2008)
  • Diabolical Plots
  • The Entertainment and Other Stories (collection by E.M. Delafield, 1927)
  • Every Day Fiction
  • Food Fictions (audio reprint anthology, 2007)
  • Ladies Home Journal
  • The London Reader
  • Nature

I'm going to hold off posting stats for February because I've messed up somewhere on my numbers, and I need to figure out where. (That's actually a big part of why this post is so late!)

Read more!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Secretary - Main Street Theater

The Secretary
Main Street Theater
[Left to right: Elizabeth Marshall Black as Janelle, Alice M. Gatling as Ruby,
and Bree Welch as Lorrie]

The good news is that I didn't miss Main Street Theater's production of "The Secretary", because some extra performances were added to the run. The bad news is that I saw it on the very last night, so I can't urge you to go see it this time around. (But I can urge you to go to a different performance at the Main Street Theater; they really put on some terrific productions!)

Written by Kyle John Schmidt and directed by Julia Traber, this little one-act, one-set, six-actor oddity is a satiric commentary on gun culture in our country. The theater's website description says:

Ruby runs a small-town gun company, manufacturing products like “The Bridesmaid,” “The Babysitter,” and “The Mallwalker,” But what happens when guns start going off all over town–and no one’s pulling the trigger?!!

So you can guess what "The Secretary" refers to. Hint: it's not a person.
Read more!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Short Fiction read in January 2019

Short Fiction read in January 2019

Image from used under a CC license

New year, new re-start of the Great Short Fiction Reading Project!

Here's what's different this time around: In addition to picking stories of various lengths from different sources, I plan to read every story published this year by Daily Science Fiction (five days a week), Every Day Fiction (seven days a week), and Nature's "Futures" section (once a week). Those are all flash (except for the occasional DSF story that tiptoes past the 1,000 word mark), so it should be manageable. I'm also going to post monthly stats, which I'll put way down at the bottom of the post so nobody has to see them if they don't want to.

Here's what's staying the same: each month I'll blog about my favorites from that month's reading, and list all the remaining stories I've read and the collective sources they came from.

These are my four favorites of the 85 stories I read during January (alphabetical by author):

"Terra Forms" by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks and Justin Adams

Length: 5,230 words
Category: Science fiction - hard (short story)
Where Published: Perihelion
When Published: 2018-04
Link (free to readers)

This is hard SF with emotions, some neat technologies I haven't seen elsewhere in fiction, and themes of terraforming and colony ships. And it's well-written. In other words, there was no way I was not going to love this story. There's one plot "conflict" element at the end that I wasn't initially sure I liked, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it adds a layer to a story that otherwise might have been too "tidy."

Read more!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Short Fiction - September 2018 and Going Forward

Short Fiction - September 2018 and Going Forward

On January 1, 2019, I restarted my short fiction reading project in earnest. As in previous years, I'm reading the minimum equivalent of one short story per day of the year. By minimum equivalent, I mean that it's OK to occasionally miss a day, as long as I make it up. And on many days I will read multiple stories, but I'm not allowed to count them as credits towards future calendar days -- they're just a bonus.

For those who know my obsessive detail-oriented personality, it won't surprise you to know I'm keeping extremely detailed statistics. You should see my spreadsheet, with eight separate tabs! There's really no need to keep these kinds of stats, but it makes me happy, so there you have it. I've also added something else to this year's goals: I plan to read every story published in 2019 by Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, and Nature's "Futures" section. But I don't want all of my reading to be flash fiction, so I'm trying to mix a lot of longer works in there too.

Shortly after the end of January I'll post my monthly round-up. I've read and cataloged 22 stories so far this month, which isn't bad considering it's only January 10th. (Hmm, I've also already hit my health insurance deductible for 2019, so not all quick starts are good starts....) In the meantime, I found my half-written blog post for reading I did back in September 2018, so I thought I'd go ahead and post that now. Several of the stories I read that month came from a 1939 collection of stories by E.M. Delafield, best known as the author of Diary of a Provincial Lady (1930). I find I'm lately drawn to these types of stories, which are about ordinary people's daily lives, loves, and heartaches during that specific time period.

However, the two stories I most enjoyed reading in September 2018 were:

"Copy Machine" by Shane Halbach (2014)

Length: 665 words
Genre-Subgenre (category): ??? (flash fiction)
Where Published: Flash Fiction Online
When Published: 2014-06

I'm not at all sure how to characterize this little piece of flash. If you take it literally, then I guess it's science fiction, but I read it more as a wistful commentary on how difficult romantic relationships are to maintain indefinitely. What if we could clone ourselves -- the desirable aspects of ourselves -- as easily as using a photocopy machine? Wistful, yet a little playful.

It's also available as a podcast at Toasted Cake here

"Strings" by Charlie Hughes

Length: 3,163 words
Genre-Subgenre (category): Mainstream - dark (short story)
Where Published: Trigger Warning
When Published: 2018-05-02
Illustrated by: John Skewes

Geoff is a forty-six year old who plays solo guitar gigs when he can get them. He's flattered when his much younger downstairs neighbors make a fuss over his playing, but is confused when things turn out quite differently than they initially appeared. I found this story sad, powerful, and extremely relevant to today's world.

Additional stories read in September 2018:
  • "The Whale Wore White" by Anatoly Belilovsky
  • "Robot" by Helena Bell (2012)
  • "Breath" by Chelsea Berghoefer (2018)
  • Stories in Love Has No Resurrection (1939) (collection) by E.M. Delafield:
    • "Love Has No Resurrection"
    • "Mothers Don't Know Everything"
    • "O.K. for Story
    • "It's All Too Difficult"
    • "The Young Are in Earnest"
    • "Bluff"
    • "The Girl Who Told the Truth"
    • "Victims"
    • "The Other Poor Chap"
    • "I Believe in Love"
    • "It All Came Right in the End"
    • "Soliloquy Before a Mirror"
    • "The Reason"
    • "The Indispensible Woman"
    • "Opportunity"
    • "My Son Had Nothing On His Mind"
    • "They Don't Wear Labels"
  • "The Philistine" by E.M. Delafield (1926)
  • "Yellowcat" by Claire Humphrey (orig. year unknown)
  • "Universal Reality" by Michael Allen Lane (2018)
  • "The Pink Agate" by Mary E. Lowd (2018)
  • "The Vector of Our Love" by Elizabeth Shack (orig. year unknown)
  • "My proposal for a book to be adapted into a movie starring Dwayne Johnson" by Robin Sloan (2018)
  • "The Wrong Plane" by Robin Sloan (orig. year unknown)
  • "Play Pretend" by Alex Sobel (2018)
  • "Friday After the Game" by James Van Pelt (2000)

List of sources:
  • 10Flash
  • Analog
  • Clarkesworld
  • Curious Fictions
  • Daily Science Fiction
  • Flash Fiction Online
  • Freeze Frame Fiction
  • Grain Magazine
  • Love Has No Resurrection (collection by E.M. Delafield)
Read more!