Our Town

Aaron Posner’s production of Our Town relaxes some of the strictures of its traditional presentation, without losing the spirit of Wilder’s play. Instead of a pair of ladders, there are set pieces for the Gibbs and Webb houses, facing one another in a galley configuration. There is the same direct address, perhaps all the more effective because we are watching the other half of the audience, as well as the play.

The town of Grover’s Corners has grown more ethnically diverse than it was in Wilder’s time. Lest we miss the point, the Stage Manager (archly played by Jon Hudson Odom) takes a knee for the passage that honors New Hampshire’s Civil War dead.

Perhaps the most effective departure is the use of half-size bunraku-influenced puppets (designed by Aaron Cromie) to portray the dozen of so minor characters. At the top of Act 3, the cast brings each puppet on, cradled in their arms—a most moving stage picture.

Todd Scofield gives us an appropriately bemused Mr. Webb. Megan Anderson’s Mrs. Gibbs is a tidy package of charm and practicality; Anderson’s plummy Prof. Willard is delightful.

  • Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, directed by Aaron Posner, Olney Theatre Center, Olney, Md.
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Serendipity, again

Another piece by one of our journalists was cited in one of the textbooks that I’m recording for Learning Ally: Neda Ulaby, “Sapiosexual Seeks Same: A New Lexicon Enters Online Dating Mainstream,” cited in James M. Henslin, Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, 13/e, 2017.

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Human capital

When and how did GDP and other money-based metrics replace all other measures of well-being in this country?

Until the 1850s, in fact, by far the most popular and dominant form of social measurement in 19th-century America (as in Europe) were a collection of social indicators known then as “moral statistics,” which quantified such phenomena as prostitution, incarceration, literacy, crime, education, insanity, pauperism, life expectancy, and disease. While these moral statistics were laden with paternalism, they nevertheless focused squarely on the physical, social, spiritual, and mental condition of the American people. For better or for worse, they placed human beings at the center of their calculating vision. Their unit of measure was bodies and minds, never dollars and cents.

Eli Cook provides some history and perspective.

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To do

The next time I’m in Connecticut, I gotta check out Stew Leonard’s.

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Some links: 79

And two pieces about what’s happening with water in the West:

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Pulling on our bootstraps, we discover that someone else made the boots and the straps, and fed and nurtured us until we were ready to pull.

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Some links: 78

A short roundup of theater links, as I clean out my Instapaper queue:

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Not so fast

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.

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I don’t consciously avoid metaphors, or similes for that matter. If they don’t happen in my writing, it may be because I find the thing I am writing about compelling enough without comparing it to something else. Maybe I don’t want to introduce some completely different world or image. For instance, in the case of the cornmeal making little drops of condensation in the story “Cornmeal,” I could say, “like little nipples on the underside of the plate,” but then you introduce nipples into the story. Or dew drops—“like little dew drops”—but then you introduce the outdoor landscape. If I avoid metaphor, and if I have to think of a reason why, it may be that I don’t want to distract from the one thing that I’m concentrating on, and a metaphor immediately does that. It introduces some completely, even incongruous, other image and world. And it can work very beautifully, but maybe I don’t want to leave the scene of what I’m describing.

—Lydia Davis, Art of Fiction No. 227, The Paris Review no. 212
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The answer is “shoe”

Paula Poundstone nails it.

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Footnote of the month:

La tête d’un homme [by Georges Simenon] was adapted again in 1949, to lesser effect, as The Man on the Eiffel Tower. A clunky color spectacular starring Charles Laughton as Maigret, it is mostly notable for its location shooting in Paris, and for being directed by co-star Burgess Meredith, who took over after Laughton had the original director fired.

—Jake Hinkson, “Georges Simenon: The Father of European Noir,” Noir City no. 22

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A mystery: 8: solved

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.

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Silver Line progress report: 42

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.

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Love and Information

70 possible short scenes, merely text, no characters, no given situations
memory palace
missing information
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
information exchange
ensemble of fourteen
strong work

  • Love and Information, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Michael Dove, Forum Theatre, Silver Spring, Md.
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In the Heights

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.
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