26 March 2008

Bizarre Bazarre

For Spring Break this year, the Goldring program (minus a few) went to Ireland, hitting up Dublin and Galway in about eight days. I'm working on chronicling the trip, but a very particular part of the trip stood out to me that I wanted to share.

Before I went, a friend of mine at Newhouse told me about a friend of his who lives in Ireland. She's written travel books about Ireland and published a novel set in the place. Her name is Camille DeAngelis, and he gave me her email. Seeing as how this woman has pretty much accomplished everything I want to accomplish in life (substituting France for Ireland), I emailed her at once, and we had several wonderful conversations. She gave me tips for surviving in Ireland (including how to tip, and the general rule of thumb is, don't) and raved particularly about the shops on the island of Inishmore off of Galway Bay. Her travel book, Moon Ireland, further raved about the shops, saying, "The best is Sarah Flaherty's shop"; Sarah, who knitted her sweaters even as she visited and gossiped with the customers. Everything in her shop was hand-made, and all from materials to be found on the island.

I must confess here that I did the tourist thing, as discreetly as possible. While still on the coach I checked the name of the shop, and as I stepped off I asked the driver where Sarah Flaherty's shop was. He took my kindly by the arm and right into her store, saying, "Sarah, here's someone to see you." (Below, a picture of one of the shops near S.F.'s.) Sarah Flaherty was a short woman with gray hair and kind, sparkling blue eyes, and a way of talking that struck me as being half way between the Irish nuns who ran my primary school and the sort of grandmother who remains eternally forty years of age. She was energetic and friendly almost to the point of making me wonder what I had done to deserve such generous treatment. Ireland's reputation for welcoming must have sprung largely from County Galway.

In the course of discussion, I told Sarah that I had read about her shop from a woman who wrote about her in a travel book, and who recommended her personally to me most especially. "Do ye have the book here?" she asked me, and I told her I did. She asked to see it, and I gave it to her, marking for her the page that mentioned her shop. Straight off she asked if I would sell it to her! I have to admit I fumbled a bit - my mother had bought this book for me, and Camille and I were to meet that evening after I returned to the mainland and I would like to have the book with me. Sarah told me that she'd had people come into her shop before after having heard of her store through travel articles or books, and that after they'd left she wished she'd bought the items from them. She had no easy internet access on the island, and it was difficult and expensive to get books to ship from the States anyway. And it was true that I could replace the book quite easily, whereas Sarah might never see it again. So we made a trade - I bought one of her sweaters, and she marked the price of the book off of the price for the sweater.

I bought a hat as well, but sadly the town of Galway swallowed it up while I was watching the Saturday rugby game; I tried to look for it, but was unsuccessful. But I have the lovely sweater, which reminds me precisely of the sweaters worn by those same nuns I mentioned earlier. And at the end of it, I've got this great souvenir and wonderful story, and Sarah has the book and my card to remember me by. As they say, all's well that ends well.

23 March 2008

Romeo & Juliet at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin

The Abbey Theatre on Dublin's north side stands as an anchor of the Irish cultural experience. Founded in 1899 the Irish Literary Theatre by, among others. William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, the theatre has continued to perform new works as well as classic theatrical pieces, usually to great acclaim. One would think that a company with such a reputation, developed over decades, could put forth a masterful presentation of a guy playing the spoons.

Spoon players might have been more enjoyable than the current production of 'Romeo and Juliet', directed by Jason Byrne, which closed on 22 March 2008. At the very least there might have been more sincere feelings from spoon players than what came from some of the performers. Shakespeare's lines were rehearsed to the point of being mere recitation rather than performance - Mercutio's Queen Mab speech feels more like a wind-up toy than one of the greatest mysteries in Shakespearian plays - and the main direction seems to have been merely "talk faster." Only Friar Lawrence pauses enough to appreciate the gems and emotions within each line. The others tinker about in a storm of dialogue, starting their lines almost before their cues. More feeling comes from a turn of the head of Capulet's henchmen, behind his Joker-like make-up and wig, than in the entire balcony scene.

Shakespeare can trip up the most experienced of actors, but wrestling the words into submission was not the only problem. Tackling the sentiments behind the words seems to have been more difficult for this cast, largely because the timing was sped up so greatly that it was a mystery how the fellow players, let alone the audience, could keep up.

Modern productions of Shakespeare commonly set the plays in time periods other than Elizabethan England. Why not? After all, so many of his plays contain themes - filial disobedience in 'King Lear', jealousy in 'Othello', ambition in 'Macbeth', and most especially forbidden love in 'Romeo and Juliet' - that are applicable at any time and community in history. Byrne, though, must have had some difficulty choosing exactly when he wanted to set his production. Romeo dons a James Dean-esque costume of jeans, a white T-shirt and a black leather vest. Lady Capulet and Lady Montague wear 60's dresses with furs and jewels. Capulet looks and carries himself like an Italian mob boss, while Montague looks more like an aging Fred Astair in his suit and tie. And Juliet? Juliet looks like she could be out on a run to Target in her tunic tank top, skinney jeans and Mary Janes. The weaponry was likewise varied and included Japanese samurai swards, daggers, rapiers and broadswords. The set, designed by Jon Bausor (who also designed the costumes), is functional, though minimalist. Only the lighting designer, Paul Keogan, performed flawlessly, creating more atmosphere than almost any of those you see on stage.

18 March 2008

Anthony Minghella, Award Winning Director, Dead at 54

Anthony Minghella, British director, writer and producer, passed away today, March 18, at approximately 5 a.m. of a post-surgical hemorrhage. He was 54.

The BBC broke the news today. Their online article posted just before 2 p.m. GMT (10 a.m. EST) failed to include a Time Of Death, but the Associated Press, which posted the story at approximately 2 p.m. EST, reported that Minghella “was operated on last week for a growth in his neck”.

Minghella’s first film was 1990’s “Truly Madly Deeply”, for which Minghella won a BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Original Screenplay.

His other directing credits include “The English Patient”, for which Minghella won an Oscar for Best Director, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, and “Cold Mountain”, all of which were nominated for at least one Oscar.

Filming on Minghella’s latest film, “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency”, finished in December 2007. The future of his other two uncompleted projects, “New York, I Love You” and “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax”, is uncertain.

Minghella is survived by his wife and two children.