Sometimes you just need a good Transverse Cylindrical Equal Area Projection of the world -- note that this mind-bender is "used sparingly," hmmm, wonder why. To make your own map, click over to the very cool National Atlas MapMaker site and zoom in on an area, then overlay geographic and political features, historical landmarks, climate, transportation, or census data to your hearts content. Nerd alert!
* Driving along Garden Street in Harvard Square, I spot a gigantic decal across the back of a parked, beat-up white Taurus. At 5 or 6 inches wide, spanning the top of the rear window, it reads: "100% LOVER IN" and then there's a drawing of two copulating toads. Not a photograph, and not a silly cartoon a la the peeing Calvin. Just two dull, businesslike green toads. So, so disturbing.
* Behind another white sedan in Burlington, I see it's festooned with goofy slogans like "Hang Up And Drive!" and the like. But front and center on the trunk lid is a large red, black and white sticker emblazoned: "I (HEART) INTERCOURSE PA". Har de har har, Intercourse Pennsylvania, I get it! Note that the town is smack in the middle of Amish country and nobody thinks it's funny but 6th graders on class trips (take my word on that one).
* Forbidden Broadway: SVU -- A revue for all the closet Broadway babies out there, you former theater geeks who can lipsync along with The Fantasticks and belt out "Tomorrow" or "I Enjoy Being A Girl" in the shower...ummm, not that I know what that's like. Two jam-packed acts, four solid troupers, and a nonstop cavalcade of parody makes the show move along at a good clip -- despite the fact that I was in the throes of nausea and feared I would have to claw my way to the aisle from dead center in the middle of the action, I was caught up in the hilarity from the start. From the washed-up, middle-aged Annie to the horny Avenue Q puppets, no Broadway sacred cow is safe, especially not Harvey Fierstein, ha ha. The more you care about theater in-jokes, the more you'll like it, but even the casual viewer can chortle at the overblown Phantom and his diminutive chandelier, or the acerbic Mamma Mia sendup: "Compared to the new shows/ABBA looks like Shakespeare," ouch! And the classic sketch on the marathon grubbiness of Les Miz was priceless. Run don't walk, as they say. (B+)
* The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? -- Kim and I joined the matinee herd, yuk yuk, to see what all the fuss was about Edward Albee's controversial (as in, could be genius, could be a waste of time) but Tony winning play. The fuss, dear readers, is over bestiality, and more specifically how it brings the comfy upscale marriage of one couple crashing down in ruins. How Albee-esque. Martin, a lovesick successful architect, is acting strangely and both his wife and best friend joke with him that he must be having an affair, ha ha ha. This cavalier treatment of infidelity (from the wife because she is rock-solidly secure in the marriage, from the friend because he's often strayed and can't believe Martin hasn't yet) quickly bites all three of them in the hindquarters, when Martin blurts out that yes, he is, with Sylvia, darling Sylvia, a goat he met upstate at a farm stand. No, really. And it's been going on for six months! The audience reaction to this revelation (which is of course not much of one, since we know the play's title and thus the "secret") morphs from naughty snickering to rueful chuckles to silent thrall at the unspooling mess onstage (literally, once the wife starts trashing the set). That's Albee's genius here: he makes us ashamed of the husband and of ourselves too, for our smug schadenfreude at his downfall. Steven Schnetzer, who played Martin (and, back in the day, Cass on Another World!) was spot on and somehow made the character truly pitiable, growing more pathetic as he starts to admit his "love affair" is really a disastrous compulsion. The other three actors were all second fiddles, but that seemed to fit the theme. And poor Sylvia herself makes only a brief, doomed cameo. Thought-provoking stuff...unfortunately the Lyric Stage theater was so overheated that several people walked out, and I thought my brain would melt. (A-)
* Brooklyn Boy -- SpeakEasy Stage is batting .1000 so far this year, with another compelling production, this time with the entire cast making their SpeakEasy debut. Donald Margulies, who wrote Dinner With Friends, delves into his autobiography here with the story of Eric Weiss, a Jewish boy, the "sensitive" type, from Brooklyn -- that is, the Brooklyn of yore, not today's hipster enclave -- who's finally become a flavor-of-the-week author, appearing on the Today Show, flying out to Hollywood, the whole bit. But his crusty old dad is dying of cancer, his wife's divorcing him, and everyone from the old neighborhood wants to know who will be playing them in the movie. "But it's a novel, a work of fiction!" he protests, not very convincingly. The play vividly bounces Eric's neuroses against the robust Brooklyn characters he's been carefully distancing himself from since he went off to Columbia years ago: his unapologetically dyspeptic father, a friend who's mired like a Springsteen lyric in the same old routines his own father laid down. Americans tend to use a euphemism, "background," for those elemental forces like religion, class, and ethnicity that are anything but as they shape our character and outlook on life. Here we see one "local boy made good" coming to terms with the fact that even after you move out and your parents pass on, you still live under their roof -- a revelation brilliantly executed onstage with a last-minute set change that takes us right into the shabby, shmutzy, ever-loving heart of Brooklyn. Wonderful performances by the dad (David Kristin) and old friend Ira (Ken Baltin) made it a wryly funny and poignant night. (A)
As a bracing antidote to such buffoonery, check out this Pew Research Center poll on the Prez's performance rating, bottoming out at 33% last week. Scroll down to the part where they track people's choice of a one-word description of W. Let's tick off the top ten most popular: Incompetent, Good, Idiot, Liar, Christian, Honest, Arrogant, Strong, Integrity, and of course Ass. Even assuming that people are not using "good" or "Christian" ironically, I'd say the guy's in trouble.
* The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada -- Sometimes the smallest movies are the most rewarding, and this directorial debut by Tommy Lee Jones is a great example. A deceptively simple border fable, written by Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros), the film flickers back and forth in the life, untimely death, and unsettling afterlife of the titular Mexican ranchhand. Melquiades is accidentally shot by a callow young border patrol agent, played with perfect All-American detachment by Barry Pepper. As we find more unspoken (and illicit) connections between the inhabitants of this dusty backwater, they start turning on each other, with Jones' grizzled gringo finally kidnapping Pepper, barefoot, to carry Mel through the desert back to his homeland. With such a simple structure, the film quickly draws you into these small lives and their surprising twists and turns. A few scenes of gruesome cruelty are all the more vivid compared to the alternating moments of humanity and connection. The story is carefully paced, and the smallest details are used to evoke so much -- you hear the faint clank of spurs as the men walk, without a gratuitous shot of their boots. Jones seems to know just how to group and shoot his actors for devastating effect, as in Levon Helm's cameo as a generous, blind hermit, or when his own character gets ruefully tanked at a crumbling country taberna draped with twinkling white christmas lights. It takes a deft touch to swing convincingly from border politics to the ineffable mysteries of friendship and back again, and here Jones succeeds. (A)
Oscars Weekend Ticket Stub Recap -- Well, it's been a crazy few days in the land of the movie fan...but before I get to the big finale, allow me to back up through all the fun had by my household leading up to it...
* On Friday, I spotted a car with two bumper stickers that seemed to prophesize a liberal Hollywood, blue state Best Picture win for everybody's favorite cowboy love story: "Wackos For Peace" and "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy!" Yeeeeeeeeeha!
* Saturday afternoon, Nat and I drove up to Salem for an entirely witch-free evening at the Hawthorne Hotel. We checked out the teapots, penguin, and model Taj Mahal made of plastic wrap at the trendy Peabody Essex Museum, and then enjoyed a delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant named....Nathaniel's, where Nat did not get to eat for free but did enjoy the towering portrait of his namesake on the wall over the piano player. Coincidentally, there were two weddings going on in the hotel, one of which took place not 10 feet from our table. I thought the guests were assembling for the reception, but then the bride and her dad were standing next to us, waiting to be cued to go through the door! It was small and relatively informal, obviously, but still exciting, and we toasted the couple as they scooted out to take photos a few minutes later. Mazel tov! We watched 'The Italian Job' on cable and then had an overpriced room service breakfast before heading home.
Yippee-ki-yi-yaaaaaayyyyyyy....Anyway, we were all vaguely disappointed that Jon Stewart wasn't his usual rascally self as Oscars host -- he seemed way too intimidated and deferential, although still dryly sarcastic, and the skits were hilarious. He seemed to warm up as the night went along, so maybe there's hope for another try next year. I couldn't believe how quickly the show went along, and by the time 'Crash' scooped up that final statue and Paul Haggis' wife exposed her breast to the camera while hugging him (and why no firestorm of 'wardrobe malfunction' proportions this time -- aired after 11pm? accidental? non-black?) we were like, "Uh, wait, it's over already?" I'll rent 'Crash' to check out the fuss, but I have a feeling it's going to be just like what I imagined when I decided not to see it over the summer, an overbudget after-school special. But I don't think 'Brokeback's loss had much to do with hidden Hollywood homophobia -- hey, for all we know it lost by only a vote or two. Hollywood loves navel-gazing way more than high-minded social commentary, and 'Crash' is an L.A. story. Just like when 'Shakespeare in Love' won over 'Saving Private Ryan,' the industry insider vote wins every time. Ah well, it's always more fun to grouse about being robbed anyway...Until 2007, see you at the movies...
* On 95 North at the Rt. 3 interchange, I passed a dually truck pulling a very large, long mesh trailer behind it, the kind that landscapers use to pull their equipment on. This one had been loaded up with something, maybe mulch, and covered with a big black tarp. Emblazoned across the tailgate: MAXI DUMP. Ugh!
* As I'm sipping my Prince of Wales tea at my desk, I turn around to look outside and check the progress of the predicted snowfall -- I am like the weathergirl in my office for the cubedwellers on the "dark side" of the wall, ha ha. What immediately trundles slowly into my view? A big red tanker truck with SANITARY PUMPING on the side in scrolly yellow letters. Mmmm!
* Our office recently installed a second microwave in the cubicle area, after months of grousing. This is pathetic because downstairs in our fully stocked cafeteria there are 3 more, but some people just can't break away for long enough to go down there, or have such social phobia that they would rather starve than stand around the caf twiddling their thumbs for a few minutes while their Lean Cuisine heats up. Whatever. This new micro is on a table between our two lovely new fridges, next to the vending machines and the restrooms. So it is a high traffic area, whereas the old micro is in a tucked-away vestibule near a large conference room. For some reason, the machine has been set in Spanish mode, so the keypad reads "100% Potencia" while it is running, and at the end a little pixillated chef, in whites and toque, appears above the word "DISFRUTE!" Okay, will do.