Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gotham Gal Review: Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

So last night I went to see the Broadway production of ARCADIA by Tom Stoppard which closes this Sunday. This is the first Broadway show that I have seen in god only knows how long, which is something that I'm hoping to change in the coming years (but more on that anon). I'm lucky enough to have a friend who gets TDF discounts so my orchestra ticket was less than half of the usual price although I had a restricted view.

I'm not a huge fan of Tom Stoppard, while I think he's a brilliant writer, sometimes he's too clever for his own good. He tries to cram so many ideas into a play that you don't know whether you're coming or going. I would suggest that if you are going to see any of his plays, that you read the script if it is published beforehand, or even afterwards, because there is a great deal that is just going to fly by you.

Arcadia is set in the fictional country estate of Sidley Park, in the years 1809-1812 and the present day. The events and activities of 2 modern day English scholars and the house's current residents are juxtaposed with the lives of the inhabitants who lived there 200 years in the past. In 1809, Thomasina Coverly, the precocious daughter of the house, is studying with her tutor Septimus Hodge who is a bit of a rake. Hodge is a contemporary of Lord Byron, who is mentioned constantly although he never makes an appearance. In the present day, Bernard Nightingale, a professor of English literature, matches wits with Hannah Jarvis, a writer, who is working on a book about a hermit who once resided on the grounds. Hannah is the author of a popular biography of Lady Caroline Lamb (a personal favorite of mine), rescuing her reputation as an author. Nightingale has been critical of her work. Nightingale is working on a book about Byron, in particular a mysterious chapter in his life, and thinks that the answer lies at Sidley Park  Together, along with Valentine Coverly, who is a graduate student in mathematical biology, they uncover the truth about what happened in Thomasina's time, or what Bernard thinks happens.  The play deals with a number of things including professional jealousy, evidence and truth when it comes to historical research, it skirts the line between being a tragedy and being a comedy.

The play in both the past and the present takes place in one room in the house, the garden front room. The play started off slowly for me, I wasn't sure what was going on, since there is a great deal of talk about Newton and the meaning of the phrase 'carnal embrace.' I won't go into a whole summary of what the play is about, but you can read a summary here. Out of all of the Tom Stoppard plays that I have seen (The Real Thing, Rock and Roll, Invention of Love, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Hapgood), I think that Arcadia is probably my favorite. Maybe because it contains several of my favorite things, Lord Byron, an English Country estate, and the Regency era. He would probably deny it, but I think Mr. Stoppard is a closet romantic.

The cast was Anglo-American, most of the actors were American, but three of them were English. As someone who has spent a great deal of time in Britain, I had no problem picking out which three, without looking at my program. My favorite character in the whole play is Thomasina Coverly (played by Bel Powley who is English). She is quite possibly the cleverest person in the room, which if you know anything about the Regency, was not necessarily a good thing, in terms of marriage. She's incredibly precocious in that annoying way that child geniuses are, but also surprisingly vulnerable. Bel Powley's performance was touching, exuberant, and funny. One of my favorite scenes in the play is toward the end when she gets Septimus Hodge, her tutor, to teach her how to waltz. It's particularly poignant because we know her fate.

Septimus Hodge (played by Rufus Sewell in the original production, and Tom Riley in this production) is a wanna be Byron but he actually has a conscience, which Byron clearly did not.  His role is that of the forbidden (I don't know why more Regency romance novels don't feature female pupils in love with their hot tutor). Lia Williams (who I saw in David Hare's Skylight many moons ago) plays Hannah Jarvis, teh modern day writer who actually does her historical research and doesn't cut corners the way Bernard Nightingale does. The weakest link in the cast for me was Billy Crudup (who I admit I haven't liked much since he left Mary Louise Parker when she was 8 months pregnant for Claire Danes)  who plays Bernard Nightingale. He chews his words while speaking really fast, which means that a great deal of his lines got lost. Stoppard like Sondheim needs crisp, clear diction. He certainly had the right attitude to play the role, although his accent kept slipping. Raul Esparza (Valentine Coverly in the present day), however, managed to speak at just the same amount of speed as Crudup, but I could understand every word that he said. Meryl Streep's daughter Grace Gummer plays Chloe Coverly, and unfortunately she looks so much like her sister Mamie that for a moment, I thought it was her on stage. She also has a similar quality to her acting, and lacks the facility for accents that her mother has.

The production was well worth seeing although I had mixed feelings about some of the acting.

For another more personal viewpoint on the production, head on over here to author Leanna Renee Hieber's review.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gotham Gal Review: Finding Sarah

FINDING SARAH: From Royalty to the Real World
OWN Network
Sundays at 9:00 p.m.

About the show (from the OWN Network site): Candid and unprecedented, the six-part television series Finding Sarah documents Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York's emotional struggle to rebuild her life. In the series, viewers will hear the Duchess' personal story and witness her unforgettable journey of healing and self-improvement.

To guide her through the ultimate mind/body makeover, she seeks guidance from traditional and non-traditional experts - a shaman, life coach, trainer and a horse whisperer - along with Oprah's "All Stars," Dr. Phil and Suze Orman.

Together they help the Duchess address tough personal issues, ranging from finances to self esteem to physical fitness. Calling upon her inner-strength and resilience, the Duchess comes to terms with past missteps, tackles major life changes and even attempts an unforgettable physical challenge in the Arctic.

Through it all, the Duchess hopes that as she heals and finds the true Sarah, and that others will learn from her story.

My thoughts:  I wasn't sure at first whether or not I was going to watch There was quite a good deal in the newspapers last week about Sarah's claims of abuse, which were blown out of proportion, frankly.  During her talks with Dr. Phil, she mentions what we might call emotional abuse, but certainly it wasn't intended that way.  Her mother Susan spanked her as a child, which was not uncommon in the 1960's, part of that whole 'spare the rod, spoil the child' ethos.  And both her parents were quite tough emotionally, they didn't condone a great deal of whinging or crying from their children, and they seem not to have been demonstrative in their affections. From all accounts, Sarah was quite an emotional child, and what her parents said to her, calling her a sheep's arse, selling her ponies (which really was obnoxious on her father's part, but then he was going to through a divorce and wasn't really thinking about how it affected his children).

Sarah's problems seem to have stemmed from her mother's running off with the handsome Argentinian polo player Hector Barrantes. Back then, it wasn't again uncommon for upper class father's to get custody of their children in the event of a divorce (witness Princess Diana's father Earl Spencer getting custody of his four children), particularly when there was adultery on the part of the mother.  I'm sure that Sarah's mother Susan believed that because her daughters were teenagers, that her leaving would be less traumatic, than it was say for Diana whose mother left when she was a small child.

I really began to feel for Sarah, I know what is like to have well-meaning parents, who loved me, say unkind things without realizing how it might affect me.  I also understand, as I'm sure quite a lot of viewers do, what it's like to turn to food for comfort. On the one hand, I think the Duchess is very brave to finally at the age of 51 to want to change her life for the better and to get a grip. And she seems to have done a remarkable job with her daughters, of showing them love and affection and boosting their confidence, particularly since the press has been remarkably on kind at times about their fashion choices and their weight. On the other hand, I find it hard to listen to her try to blame the whole of last year's fiasco (the scandal of her selling access for cash) solely on The News of the World.   She keeps repeating this story that she was only trying to get money for a friend, when it is clear from the video that she's selling access to Prince Andrew for cash.  The undercover reporter did not make her say those things.

I also found it hard to stomach that she has been so fiscally irresponsible over the years. She had a job for several years before she married into the royal family, so presumably she paid rent, bought food, etc.  At some point, someone should have sat her down (particuarly after she got into debt the first time) and taught her how to budget, invest her money etc. She was awfully cagey with Suze Orman about her divorce settlement from Prince Andrew.  We all know pretty much what Princess Diana received after her divoce, it makes me wonder how the royal family had her over a barrel on that one.

The other thing I found interesting was that she mentioned how little she saw Prince Andrew while they were dating.  Apparently she saw him less than Princess Diana did when Prince Charles was courting her, which again makes me wonder, why would you marry a man that you knew so little about? Was she just swept up in the romance of it, and never really stopped to think what she was getting into. Not so much the bit about marrying into the royal family, but marrying a naval officer. If she saw him so little during their courtship, did it not occur to her that this would continue after they were married?

Her enthusiasm and boisterousness seems to have made her jump in with both feet without ever thinking about the consequences of her actions. What I was struck by was her realization that she has been extraordinarily lucky in her life.  She and Andrew have managed to co-parent successfully after their divorce, there seems to have been no bitterness on either side. He jumped in to offer her a place to live after last year's scandal, and they continued to live together for several years after their divorce.  Oprah came to her rescue and offered her the chance to gain the tools to change her life (of course it wasn't totally altruistic). After her divorce, she managed to capitalize on a whole range of jobs to pull herself out of debt, and she also set up a charitable venture as well. So it's frustrating and heartbreaking that in the midst of all this, she has such self-loathing for herself.

Sarah comes across as likeable, vulnerable, and incredibly clueless. She claims that after she got divorced, she didn't know how to do anything.  I find that hard to believe, considering that for 8 years, she supported herself before she got married (well she had a job anyway) and she was only married to Prince Andrew for 6 years before they seperated in 1992 (they divorced in 1996). I've never met a woman of her age who was more child-like in her need to please people and to be taken care off, instead of standing on her own two feet.

I'm looking forward to seeing if this journey actually creates positive changes in her life, and if they continue after the cameras stop rolling. Will we need to have a Season 2?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Gotham Gal Review: Witches of East End

Author:  Melissa de la Cruz
Pub. Date: June 2011

•Publisher: Hyperion
•Format: Hardcover , 288pp

From the back cover:

The three Beauchamp women--Joanna and her daughters Freya and Ingrid--live in North Hampton, out on the tip of Long Island. Their beautiful, mist-shrouded town seems almost stuck in time, and all three women lead seemingly quiet, uneventful existences. But they are harboring a mighty secret--they are powerful witches banned from using their magic. Joanna can resurrect people from the dead and heal the most serious of injuries. Ingrid, her bookish daughter, has the ability to predict the future and weave knots that can solve anything from infertility to infidelity. And finally, there's Freya, the wild child, who has a charm or a potion that can cure most any heartache.

For centuries, all three women have been forced to suppress their abilities. But then Freya, who is about to get married to the wealthy and mysterious Bran Gardiner, finds that her increasingly complicated romantic life makes it more difficult than ever to hide her secret. Soon Ingrid and Joanna confront similar dilemmas, and the Beauchamp women realize they can no longer conceal their true selves. They unearth their wands from the attic, dust off their broomsticks, and begin casting spells on the townspeople. It all seems like a bit of good-natured, innocent magic, but then mysterious, violent attacks begin to plague the town. When a young girl disappears over the Fourth of July weekend, they realize it's time to uncover who and what dark forces are working against them.

With a brand-new cast of characters, a fascinating and fresh world to discover, and a few surprise appearances from some of the Blue Blood fan favorites, this is a page-turning, deliciously fun, magical summer read fraught with love affairs, witchcraft, and an unforgettable battle between good and evil.

Gotham Gal reports:  Melissa de la Cruz's new series is an intoxicating brew, a heady mixture of Norse mythology, and old-fashioned story-telling. I wasn't sure what to make of this book when I first started reading it.  I received an ARC from the publisher, which indicated that the book was being positioned for the YA market that gobbled up her previous series The Blue Bloods and The Au Pairs.  However this book is more suited for more mature teens.  It's much more adult in many ways than her other books.  de la Cruz's writing is much more assured and mature than her earlier works.  Witches of East End is very reminiscent of Alice Hoffmann's work, particularly her book Practical Magic.

My only quibble with the story is that she uses a real location Gardiner's Island in the book as well as the Gardiner family (who actually still own the island), one of whom is the villain in the book. Granted, her Gardiner's are fictional but it would like writing a novel and creating a whole other branch of the Roosevelt or Vanderbilt family.  The Gardiners have owned that island since the late 17th century.  It's perfect for the story, but it took me out of the reality that she was creating.  That's just me and readers who don't know who the Gardiner family is and their relation to Long Island won't really care.