Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

A movie, a play, a time stuck in traffic

December 29th, 2011

This stay-at-home vacation thing is unexpectedly working out in a way that my top-priority sizable project for the week (in the “home video” category) remains untouched on the to-do list. And there is only one formal vacation day left…

I suppose going for a matinee movie showing one day followed by a mid-day theater outing followed by long-distance chauffeur duties were bound to kill enough time over the course of a few days to make it feel that I am actively occupied on what I thought would be a very lazy week.

The movie I watched with Becky was the latest Sherlock Holmes, which was both entertaining and somewhat disappointing. I am not a Holmes purist to any degree, I was familiar with the first movie and calibrated my expectations accordingly, and I appreciate the high entertainment quotient and directorial skill found in the latest installment. And I actually think the second movie went to greater length to showcase Holmes’ deductive reasoning than the first one. But in the end, it felt as if it was mostly about guns, explosions, well-placed acts of sabotage, hand-combat skills and a fortuitously positioned cannon than about, you know, brains. Downey Jr and Law do play off each other fantastically, though.

The next day it was musical theater’s turn. A friend recommended a play running at the NYU’s Skirball Center and we went for a city outing alongside several families. Started with a nice lunch at Café Español, then moved on to Washington Square so that the younger kids could have some fun on the playground, and finished the day’s itinerary with a play.

Called Shlemiel the First, it is Jewish-themed and theoretically was supposed to appeal to our crew of folk music lovers. But I ended up thoroughly outnumbered when attempting to craft a positive review afterwards. The prevailing opinion ranged from Kimmy’s diplomatic “I did not like it that much” to the blunt “It sucked” voiced by several people in the party. It is not that the music was too Broadway-ized to be readily identifiable as Jewish. It is not that the plot was silly and its resolution was dumb. It is not that the lyrics were mediocre and the jokes were mostly unfunny. It is not that the actors were, charitably, unremarkable as singers. It is, frankly, all of that combined together that created an overall impression of something that should have been, in hindsight, avoided.

Least of all I understood why we brought children along (kids, actually, comprised a large portion of the audience). There were a couple of mildly risqué scenes, but not a single children-level joke. Given the buffoonery overtones of the proceedings, the play could not be called educational in any respect either.

My attempts at finding positives about the show stopped at appreciating the choreographed open-scene transformations that were well worked into the flow of the performance. Becky agreed that it looked really neat, but refused to give the show any other props.

Driving into Greenwich Village in the late morning went along considerably smoother than driving into Midtown Manhattan in the early afternoon. Today I had to pick up Becky’s friend from the Penn Station as she arrived for a few days’ stay with us, and my composure was sorely tried. Too many cars, too many pedestrians, too many “you can’t turn here, go straight” prohibitions. On the bright side, I did spend considerably more time than expected on the round-trip, further reducing my idle existence on this boringest of vacations.

Chronicles, Movies, Theater

The Lion King musical

February 29th, 2008
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We went to see the Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre in London last night. Confirming what I have been hearing for years, it’s a tremendous show, with imaginative colorful costumes and contraptions depicting various animals, and simple but expressive sets. The acting, I felt, was a bit on the mediocre side, but that cannot negate the overall positive impression.

One little problem. For once in our lives, we did not bother with choosing our seats, but instead went for what was available through a distributor. Ended up in the fourth row of the mezzanine, which, at this particular theater, has less than ideal acoustics.

But the most important thing is, this show is not suited for viewing from above. The sets that depict savannah lose their impact on the viewer because of the perspective. For instance, when the sliding strip of vegetation is meant to create an effect of moving through a grassy terrain, and you see the actors’ shuffling feet from your perched viewpoint, it all looks rather weird.

In addition, parts of the stage open up to let in or take away both the characters and some additional decorations, and seeing the gaps in the floor or some of the mechanisms is downright disillusioning.

Not being able to properly see the parts of the show where the animals move through the orchestra is also a downer.

Well, the kids loved it anyway! That’s all that matters.


Weekend mischief

October 7th, 2007
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Becky complained that she spent twice as much time on the bus during her class trip to France than actually touring. While I suspect that she is exaggerating, there is certainly a bit of a shortcoming with the whole day-trip to France concept: Getting to Calais takes at least two hours from your door. Add the same two hours to the return leg, and you end up with quite a chunk of time just spent getting to/from the gateway to the country… Objectively speaking, there is a limited range of what you can go for as far as a day-trip is concerned, and most of the time it involves getting up at five in the morning to make a start…

I picked up our newest visiting dignitaries at Heathrow on Friday night, and the traffic was not too atrocious in either direction. We made the return leg in a bit over an hour, which is nothing short of a record. I guess I should continue my feeble attempt at being objective and admit that occasionally one does get lucky. Relatively speaking…

Lina and Alex dived into sightseeing activities, while we were planning for a leisurely weekend. But at some point on Saturday morning, Natasha said, “How about we go to this show? I found discount tickets”. And off we went to Central London on a whim like that.

The show we saw was rather curious and quite entertaining. It is called Mischief. It involves seven people dance-acting various situations that occur amongst children playing in a yard, with another guy providing a fantastic background that amalgamates recordings, live play on guitar and keyboard and various voice sounds. There is no dialogue. No decorations. There are, however, numerous foam rubber bars that are inventively used as props for the various scenes. It is all visually and audibly rather impressive.

It is, however, marketed as a children show. Although there is enough clowning and goofing to make children laugh, conceptually the performance requires a certain level of maturity for full appreciation. Our children were sufficiently amused, but there were hundreds of small kids in the audience, whose parents undoubtedly read the same online ad that we did, which emphasized kids theme. Most of them, apparently, failed to register that the age appropriateness was set at 7 and above. Too low anyway, from my point of view…

But there is something to be said about making a last minute decision to go someplace. I don’t think that we do it enough, even though we consider ourselves very mobile. Making a snap decision and pursuing a sudden diversion is fun in its own right…

Chronicles, Theater

Out and about with a mute

February 18th, 2007

Next on the list – learning sign language.

Natasha is definitely feeling better overall, but her regular malady befell her. She lost her voice, and even whispering hurts her vocal cords. She communicates primarily by gestures instead, which are not always easy to decipher. Conversations inevitably turn into drawn-out charades, and we collectively get to the meaning, and even manage to laugh about it. Sign language would come handy at a time like this, especially since it happens a few times a year and lasts for several days every time.

We were out and about on Saturday, and must have been fascinating to look at every time Natasha tried to explain something to us or simply point something out. Her favorite trick is to loudly clap her hands, forcing everyone to look at her, and start gesticulating when she has our attention. Clapping in a public place – that draws some attention, for sure…

Anyway, ever since our first trip to the British Museum, Kimmy was asking when we can go back to a museum where they have backpacks. Her interest was further sharpened by several Brussels museums that we visited, which she labelled not real museums and which did not offer any activities of the types she like. Since Becky missed our first excursion to this museum, we figured we’d make a return there.

Saturday weather was crisp and pleasant, so we enjoyed a bit of time outside. Since this was still half-term break in school, the inside of the museum was teeming with schoolchildren, in addition to tourists. We picked an ancient greek activity backpack, and proceeded for close to two hours with whatever the instructions directed us to do, from learning architectural components of a temple to matching modern sports with their ancient precursors.

One of the activities consisted of learning to play knucklebones, with four of those readily supplied. The rules of the game are eerily close to how we used to play Stones (Камешки ) in my childhood, and I still possess enough skill in that to thoroughly impress my offspring. That was possibly quite the highlight of the trip.

At some point, the crowds started to annoy us – ok, me, primarily, – and we made a leisurely trip home.

That same night, we had another event planned. Well, planned is not exactly how it should be described, as Natasha stuck a printed ad in front of me in the morning and contorted her face into quizzical expression, which I interpreted as Do you want to go? The ad was for a ballet performance of the Nutcracker by the Moscow City Ballet troupe, held on Saturday night not in the city, but rather at a theater in Bromley. I responded with Why not, called the ticket office, learned that there were still some tickets available, and we were on.

Bromley town center is easily reachable from where we live by a direct bus route, #126, the same one that I take weekly when not going to the Canary Wharf offices. We decided not to bother with driving and parking, especially since we already had daily travelcards covering zone 4, within which both Mottingham and Bromley lie. This particular bus route does not run very often, which is a bit of inconvenience, but it never gets too crowded either. Kimmy and Becky got choice seats in front and held a sophisticated discourse about something, while Natasha was doing her best to gesticulate up a conversation with me.

The theater was neither big nor small, but agreeable, right in the middle of Bromley’s pedestrian area. We came a bit early (Natasha even put some strain on her cords to whisper a quip about me always planning for too much reserve time and coming in 45 minutes earlier than necessary), so we explored around a bit.

The performance was excellent. To tell the truth, I understand ballet on par with understanding sign language, and while all the movements, jumps and pirouettes looked good to me, I cannot attest to the quality of the dancers’ skill. But I do appreciate great music, and the show appeared well choreographed. We were all impressed.

Natasha submitted that she liked ballet better than the opera, and Kimmy summed up the day as It was so great! First, museum with backpacks, then ballet…

Chronicles, London Album, Theater