Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce

Is there another playwright who shows such skill at introducing characters as Sarah Ruhl? Consider the poetic exposition in which we meet supporting characters Frank and Frances: in a double monologue, each speaking virtually the same text, we learn that Frank began life as an accountant, while Frances gave up physics (“all those angles,” as Tilly says) to open a hair salon.

It is Tilly (ably played by Billie Krishawn) whose arc commands the play. As she transitions from quiet melancholy (captured in a scene which recreates the Vermeer pearl-earring portrait) to giddy, almost manic happiness, everyone else turns alienated and glum, as if some law of conservation of psychic energy were in force.

Ruhl revisits some classical themes—Orpheus and Eurydice, comic metamorphosis—while keeping a light, deft tone. Christian Montgomery is hilariously over the top as Tilly’s psychotherapist, who has some severe transference issues. The piece is enlivened by solo cello played by Kate Rears Burgman, music by Wytold, and two song breaks.

  • Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce, by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Nick Martin, Constellation Theatre Company, Washington
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    It Don’t Worry Me

    Barbara Harris, owner of the closing moments of Nashville, has taken her last bow.

    ArtsJournal

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    Cricket Crawl 2018

    Home football game, nice weather, and the last weekend before school starts, so the listening wasn’t that great for Team Reston for this year’s Cricket Crawl.

    Heard during my 1-minute sample: Common True Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia) and Lesser Anglewing (Microcentrum retinerve).

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    33-8

    Mamie Johnson remembers mid-fifties life on the road for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro leagues, in Michelle Y. Green’s first-person biography, A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson:

    Sometimes that raggedy old bus would break down and we’d wear our muscles out before the game pushing it uphill. And we never knew if we had enough gas to make it from place to place, ’cause some of the towns we stopped in had “Whites-Only” gas pumps. That never made sense to me. Seems like if folks were so anxious to get rid of colored folks, they’d want to give us the gas we needed to get on down the road. (p. 86)

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    Shenandoah National Park getaway 2018

    home, for a bitI took a two-night trip to Shenandoah National Park, staying in this adorable cabin on the Skyland property, one of the oldest cabins in the park. Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotila varia) seen from the porch.


    five not fourThe first day, I did a four-hour loop out of the Big Meadows area, following the Rapidan Road, Mill Prong Trail, and AT. The meadows along the Rapidan Road were quite good for our common butterflies. Once the road entered the woods, I found a lingering patch of Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). My initial attempts to ID were rather hopeless (I’ve never seen this plant before), in part because the blooms nearer the trail were on the way to gone by, and showed only four parts, not five. Field ID job #1: always check more than one individual.

    free flowingThe Mill Prong was flowing generously. A thundershower kicked in as I climbed back to Milam Gap, and I had to break out my ratty emergency poncho with a hole and most of the snaps broken. Near the end of my loop, I found a flock of about 18 Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo); I think that this is the first time that I’ve seen them in fairly thick woods, rather than by the roadside. 4.2 miles, elevation change 205m.

    slopeThe next day, I drove to the South District to take a loop around Blackrock. Blackrock is not so much a mountain as it is a messy talus slope. This is the view to the north. Not even a Mountain Ash has made inroads here. I deviated from my trail guide and took a short stretch on the AT. Let’s call it 2.5 miles and an elevation change of 110m, around in 2:05. On the AT, I surprised a pair of Black Bear cubs, on one side of the trail, and an adult on the other side. I backed off and clapped my hands and improvised a silly song about walking in the woods (the sort of thing that Pooh and Piglet would sing) until I was sure that the fuzzies had moved on.

    I found that I was laboring in my climbs—there are a couple of reasons why that might be. So, for my afternoon walk, I cut down the loop I was planning into a circuit starting from Browns Gap, following the AT, Big Run Loop Rail, and Madison Run Road. As I approached the parking area for the trailhead, I was hailed by two noisy hikers on the roadside. I thought that they had run out of water, but it turned out they were just hoping to cadge a beer. Ah, well, trail magic takes many forms.

    Climbing on the AT, I decided that this was my therapy: hot yoga forest bathing. Pause. Listen. Breathe.

    patience rewardedcommon, but very niceMadison Run Road (I’ve been at the other end of this road) was good for a couple butterflies, Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) at left and Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) at right. Alas, I did not key out the fleabane. 105m elevation change, 2.2 miles, 1:35.

    not a sunflowerAlong Skyline Drive, I saw lots of variations on yellow August-blooming composites. But once I stopped and got my Newcomb’s out, I found only two species. First, some patches of Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), including a few flowers on Madison Run Road.

    one inflorescenceleaf detailAnd then, overwhelmingly, the roadside flowers in bloom at this time of the year turn out to be Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus). These photos are all from one overlook parking area, the plants are everywhere Skyline Drive. The flowers show variability in color (yellow to orange) and they change as the flower matures: the disc becomes darker, more prominent (like a coneflower) as the ray flowers begin to drop off.

    I stopped for a quick run up to Betty’s Rock before I headed back to the cabin and dinner. But the trail is closed for revegetation. Just a reminder that it’s possible to love something too much, so much that you hurt it.

    a driftCounting the trailside and roadside bears that I saw, I found six. That’s more bears than I’ve ever seen before in my life.

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    Phenology notes: 1

    Last sighting for this season of a neighborhood Gray Catbird attacking its reflection in my patio door: 5 August 2018.

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    Small beauties

    Bas Bleu contemplates grace:

    The corollary to this—something I also frequently fail to recognize—is that I can be a grace in the lives of those around me, by being kind, by being attentive, by showing recognition and appreciation. By picking up the litter someone else has tossed. By making room for the baby stroller on a crowded Metro car. By letting someone merge into traffic.

    When you feel you have little to contribute, it’s heartening to think that you can give grace. It doesn’t require great wealth or grand gestures; it only needs awareness and willingness. I don’t get to choose when to receive grace, but I can choose when to give it. And by giving it, I can choose to be it. That is within my power.

    My Twitter profile describes me, in part, as in favor of “that which is mindful.” That bit sometimes feels inauthentic to me, because I don’t have a regular practice. I am only once in a while mindful myself. Other words or phrases that I have considered for my profile: compassion, sharing, awareness, care for the natural world, thoughtfulness, quality. Maybe the word I am looking for is grace.

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    Banality

    Nikhil Sonnad, Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason:

    [Facebook] has its own grand project—to turn the human world into one big information system. This is, it goes without saying, nowhere near as terrible as the project of the thousand-year Reich. But the fundamental problem is the same: an inability to look at things from the other fellow’s point of view, a disconnect between the human reality and the grand project.

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    For Leta: 8

    “A Letter from the End of Days (Come In. Clean the House. We Have Died.)” by Malachi Black, at Poetry Daily.

    … there is nothing else

    to help you. There is no one here
    at all.

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    Or,

    Forgettable or preposterous? Elisabeth Vincentelli looks at names of plays these days.

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    Upcoming: 50

    The Hirshhorn has acquired its first Tino Sehgal performance art piece, This You. Plans call for it to debut on Labor Day weekend.

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    Enroute: 17

    machineSo this pavement milling machine has been hanging out near the building entrance. I wonder what it has on its mind.

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    Baltimore businessman processed hams, led by 25% of NaCl (1,4)

    It’s been a while since I watched broadcast TV that featured ads from local meatpackers, so I missed the passing (I don’t follow the AP style book) of Nathan Mash in 1998. Something I read or heard reminded me of his customary spiel, which was two parts talking about ham curing and one part cryptic crossword puzzle setting, so I looked up his obit.

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    Orobranche uniflora

    Back in New York, Dave Taft offers this botanical and etymological love note to one of the broomrapes.

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    Mortal coil

    Mark Memmott has one of the most important jobs in our newsroom: he’s the designated noodge who makes sure that we get our facts right (as ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen details) and our language unvarnished and clear. He quotes Rick Holter from member station KERA on avoiding euphemisms for death:

    “Any time you use one of those euphemisms on air or online (except in a direct quote) to ease the pain of the family or respect the person, you’re basically saying this death is different from others; it could be heard or read as this person’s death is more sensitive or valuable than others.

    “We shouldn’t be making those judgments.

    “Also, we follow Associated Press style, which is unequivocal about this:

    “‘Don’t use euphemisms like passed on or passed away except in a direct quote.’

    “So remember: People die. And we respect all those deaths equally.”

    Thank you, Mark, for keeping us in line.

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