A short roundup of theater links, as I clean out my Instapaper queue:
Mark Seidenberg takes apart a recent paper’s claims for a biological (specifically, retinal) explanation for the complex spectrum of behaviors that we call dyslexia.
Paula Poundstone nails it.
Alonso Abugattas identifies the mystery spiders that I met two autumns ago: Neoscona sp., probably N. crucifera. He explains why they “seem to appear” in fall:
During the earlier part of the year you likely never noticed them. Not only were they much smaller as spiderlings, but they hide during the day. They would tear down and consume their webs every morning, so you often didn’t notice their webs they constructed nightly. They did this to avoid daytime predators such as birds or wasps from finding them. Mud Dauber wasps for example often sting and paralyze many of these when they’re young, stashing them in their mud nests as living paralyzed food for their own babies.
But by Fall, they’re often too big for wasps to eat. Many wasps have also concluded hunting and egg laying by this late in the year. So the spiders sometimes hang out during the day. Many birds also don’t go after them as much, having no babies to feed or they themselves leaving on migration South. Prey also gets scarcer as it gets colder, so leaving the web up during the warmer day increases the chance of a catch. Consequently, Spotted Orbweavers don’t hide as much and also don’t tear down their webs and rebuild them at night as much once autumn arrives.
Lori Aratani has an update on Phase 2: design and construction 67% complete, and the project is two years from “substantial completion.” Come Phase 2 in 2020, I will miss boarding at the terminus in the morning, but presumably I will be jostling with fewer people on the platform for a seat.
70 possible short scenes, merely text, no characters, no given situations
the impossibility of describing the sensation of fear, of plain, of longing
shotgun DNA sequencing
love and remembrance
cocktails and [illegible]
interrogation and torture
opening scene: Alice shares a secret with Bob, but we never get to hear it
house configured galley style, watching other audience members
half a line, fishermen in slickers, a phone call to a Las Vegas showgirl
ensemble of fourteen
- Love and Information, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Michael Dove, Forum Theatre, Silver Spring, Md.
In the Heights is a richly-textured soundscape and dancescape of immigrant life in New York’s Washington Heights in the early years of this century. From the broad strokes of redevelopment pressures to the fine details of transit (“There’s no 9 train now”), the rendering is vivid and precise. Miranda and Hudes skillfully advance character and plot within a big set piece like “The Club”/”Blackout” in short, economical phrases.
The text is brought to marvelous life by director/choreographer Marcos Santana. For the most part, the downstage thrust area is kept open; Milagros Ponce de León’s set pieces can be pulled on wagons to bring us into the interior of Usnavi’s bodega, or Daniela’s hair salon, or Kevin and Camila’s car service office.
Although the young people’s hopes and dreams drive most of the story, I was particularly smitten by Danny Bolero’s “Inútil,” a song of mature longing in which he sings of the frustrations of being his father’s son and of not being able to do well enough for his family. And the Piragua Guy’s (Tobias A. Young) interludes are a pleasant mood-relaxer.
The offstage band sounded somewhat disembodied, and at Sunday’s show, some of the mic cues could have been executed later rather than sooner.
- In the Heights, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, directed by Marcos Santana, Olney Theatre Center and Round House Theatre, Olney, Md.
Carl and Jerry Taylor did a fern-intensive walk, bushwhacking up ravines from the C&O Canal towpath near Snyder’s Landing.
We sorted out our Dryopteris species, among them Intermediate Woodfern (D. intermedia) (left, and with sori, right)
and Marginal Woodfern (D. marginalis).
It was a good day for spleenworts, four species in all, including this lovely Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes).
At a quick stop on the way back to our meeting point, Carl pointed out some cliff-preferring species, like this pair of Wall Rue (A. ruta-muraria) (above) and Blunt-lobed Cliff Fern (Woodsia obtusa).
But the WOW moment was the look at, with hand lens assist, a few gametophytes (prothallus) of Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostochoides). The trick to seeing gametophytes is to find a nurse log or other suitable substrate, then look for tiny sporophytes just getting started (a few millimeters tall). At the base of the sporophyte, you might find the remnants of the gametophyte.
Kevin Dodge, Shirley Gay, and Steve Kite led a walk though Ice Mountain Preserve. The northwest face of the ridge is an immense talus slope, as the North River gradually eats away at the base of the mountain.
The pores between the boulders are a magnet for cold air. The air vents out at the bottom of the slope. In winter and spring, these vents are covered with ice.
The trapped and released cold air provides growing conditions that are closer to boreal than mid-Atlantic. Most of the veg we saw was mostly gone by, but one Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) was still holding on.
Closer to the trailhead, we found a few examples of Cut-leaved Grape Fern (Botrychium dissectum).
Woolly Mammoth takes a bold step… into the past, with its mounting of a play from the mid-20th century. The Swiss playwright Max Frisch’s fable, first presented in 1958 (as Biedermann und die Brandstifter) and in a new translation by Alistair Beaton, is a cry against middle-class complacency when confronted with looming evil. It’s not a particularly subtle work, with a narrative arc that angles straight down. There are Brechtian touches of distancing. Bits of dialogue are repeated, and the language can be rather stilted–cut across with fourth wall-breaking direct addresses to the audience.
Businessman George Betterman (Howard Shalwitz, dusting off his nebbishy) is visited (or invaded?) in his living room by Joe Smith, a down-and-outer, played by Tim Getman. Getman (skinheaded and bushy-bearded) does some strong work here, riding a line of simmering threat and emotional blackmail. Betterman (a bit of a sketchy dealer himself, truth be told) invites Joe under his roof, probably against his better judgement. There is a suspicion, at first just a soupçon, that Joe has something to do with the rash of arson fires that have plagued Betterman’s city. Betterman wants to show compassion, to engage with Joe. But Joe just ramps up the stakes, first bringing his friend Billie Irons (Kimberly Gilbert, all sweetness and sand) into the house without asking, and then rolling in some very ominous looking storage drums. There’s no guile to Joe and Billie: every time they’re asked, they tell you what they’re doing at that particular moment.
The question that Frisch poses to us (nay, flings at us) is simply: at what point do you say no to Joe and Billie? When Joe first walks in the door? When they are asked what’s in the drums, and they flatly reply, “Gasoline”? When, at the play’s culmination, they ask Betterman for a mundane favor that is the key to the final conflagration?
The play’s strength is its weakness. We can read so many different conflicts into it, from freedom fighters vs. fascists of all stripes, to narcissist national leaders who escalate pissing contests into nuclear exchanges.
- The Arsonists, by Max Frisch, in a new translation by Alistair Beaton, directed by Michael John Garcés, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington
Netting bats on the ashes of a Staten Island landfill, from Laura Bliss.
A lot of New Yorkers still think of Freshkills as a dump, [Danielle Fibikar] says, even though it’s coming back to life. The place is misunderstood, sort of like the bats.
“There’s a lot of stuff people don’t pay attention to in this city,” she says. “I think they’re scared of what they don’t know.”
Alas, the story is marred by a copy editing blunder:
In New York City, where nine species of bats are known to migrate during the summer, a single little brown bat is capable of devouring up to 100 percent of its body weight in insects, a diet that includes mosquitoes.
Devouring up to 100 per cent of its body weight… per day? per minute? per fortnight?