The End of Summer is Nigh
Last night was the end of the season at the Hope Summer Repertory Theatre on the campus of Hope College in Holland MI. I'd hoped to provide some updates of all the shows we saw, but alas, I haven't been so punctual with the blogging as I'd like. It was, in short, a fabulous season of unknown plays -- or at least unknown to us. Six shows in three venues, incredibly creative sets and set dressings, fine acting and some exceptional singing highlighted the 2005 HSRT season. If you are ever in this neck of the woods during the summer, you really must try to take in one or more HSRT shows.
This last play was Moliere's Scapin (skah-PAN), a comedie della arte work "updated" to the 1920's and done in a black & white set with similar costuming to invoke a silent movie feel. They even had a screen above the stage for projecting subtitles, but the majority of the rapid fire dialogue was voiced. Scapin is the charming and conniving servant of a gentleman, Sylvestre is his sidekick and there are worthless sons who want to woo for love and not for arranged business deals, a daughter missing since age four and another daughter who has been hidden from view in another city. Hilarity ensues, especially in a lovely set design which incorporates a central fountain where under its inner skirts all manner of props have been hidden, two houses on either side pf the square with doors and plenty of shuttered windows which swing open, and some dangerous looking stunts involving swinging across the stage on a knotted rope, climbing down on a rope from a second story window and the two Keystone cop characters half hanging out of second story windows after the ladder is pulled out from under them each in turn.
Also owned by Hope College is the Knickerbocker Theatre in downtown Holland MI. They've started a late summer film series and we saw a charming 2004 British film Millions on Friday night. It's a film whose main premise might escape a lot of Americans who don't understand the world works differently -- the U.K. is poised for a Christmastime E-Day, when the British pound Stirling is retired and the country shifts to the euro. This hasn't happened yet, but it's an engaging premise for which there is plenty of precedent throughout the European Community. There are cheesy government TV spots counting down the days to E-Day and the reminder that one euro will be equal to sixty-seven "pee" (€1 = 67p = £0.67), and well-meaning in-school activities to try to recruit the old change from the children to help the needy. Into this mix are added two young boys who have recently lost their mother. Their dad is moving them into a new housing development, in part we're sure, to escape the memories. The younger boy is quite into knowing all the saints and building elaborate cardboard box constructions near the busy high-speed rail line. Then one day a large Nike sports bag comes flying out of the sky and lands on the cardboard "house" while the young boy is inside.
The bag contains over a quarter-million pounds of banknotes. We later learn that there's been a robbery -- this money was being shipped for destruction as part of the euro conversion -- and there are only days left before all this money becomes worthless. The little boy wants to do good by giving it to the poor, but his older more worldly brother has other plans. And it all gets more complicated and a little bit scary as one of the robbers tracks down his bag. But in the end it's all lovely and mostly harmless fun. The comedic moments are mixed up in equal parts with decent social commentary and quirky side characters -- and all the kids are simply marvelous. And all the saints -- we mustn't forget the saints. Oh and football... Manchester United and all that.
We don't see enough of films like this on our side of the puddle and Hollywood is too busy blowing things up and wondering why no one is going to their movies to ever give this type of movie a try -- or even a wider release. Highly recommended.
A Sure Sign of Summer's Fading
The Cubs are, amazingly, not in last place in the National League Central Division, but they're fading fast -- losing nine of their last eleven games. Being a Cubs fan is just one of those things which people who've never lived in Chicago or other areas under the Cubs' sphere of influence will probably never understand.
Late Summer Reading
A trip up to Alpine Avenue on Friday allowed me to zip by Schuler's Books on Alpine. They finally had a copy of Clarion classmate Marjorie M. Liu's second book, A Taste of Crimson. My wife was in between books, so picked it up first when I brought it home. They also had Vol. 1 Issue 2 (Summer 2005) of the new quarterly Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest -- it's good to see a new publication in the F&SF/Asimov's/Analog size, because the more of those magazines which are out there, the easier it is to showcase them all together in a group and not lose them behind the taller magazines. This issue of Apex looks like it features several stories on nanotech and nanobots -- I read Jonathon Moeller's "Bugs in the Wall" which I found to have an interesting premise about an evil-hearted business fanatic and a scientist trying to figure out how the apparently long-ago designed nanobots work. Research, in this case, is a source of freedom. Very different from the kind of stuff I write and I enjoyed it. Some might criticize the sort of deus ex machina ending, except that we're dealing with "free-range" nanobots, so don't they actually qualify as deus ex machina? (grin) Besides, he gives hints in a way I found the ending to be quite satisfying.
If you see the new Fantasy & Science Fiction with the giant chocolate Easter bunny on the cover... no, Gordon Van Gelder hasn't done a time warp with a very late/early Easter issue for September 2005. But he's got a "quantum" story which begins (and ends) the issue which you will find either "very clever" or "okay, so they're trying to be very clever." (grin) I'm only halfway through it, so I haven't decided yet.
But the best story in F&SF, for me, was Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners." Kelly was part of our 2004 Clarion anchor team, along with Jeffrey Ford, and she has a new collection of stories out with the same title. I really liked the setting, premise and especially the characters in "Magic for Beginners." It also plays to a whole host of SF book, movie and TV show fans in a very clever way. My Clarion classmate slithytove recently wrote up a review of Buffy season seven, and this story's show The Library invokes the kind of fan fanaticism which "normal" (aka "boring") people simply don't understand. There is also an element of Dodie Smith's 1948 YA novel I Capture the Castle, about a girl's father who is trying to write his "second great novel" -- I brought that up one day at the end of class at Clarion last summer, naturally not being able to remember the name at the time, but was pleased that a couple of people, including Kelly I think, were able to come up with this book -- to say nothing of the feelings of betrayal and "say it's not so" and "how will they get around this" about the death of a show's character, which no doubt is in the minds of this summer's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince readers.
There are teenage romantic tensions in Kelly's story which not only seem completely real to me, but provide one of the strong drives to read through the story.
And for the record, I myself do like Velveeta and pickle sandwiches. Always with ketchup, sometimes with peanut butter and "in the old days", with mayonnaise. (Horseradish and peanut butter make an awesome combination, by the way, resulting in horseradish which won't rip out your throat and peanut butter which doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth.) (And I just discovered yesterday that peanut butter and guacamole works in a Velveeta and sliced tomato sandwich.) (Yum.)
William Barton's "Harvest Moon" in the September 2005 Asimov's Science Fiction is highly recommended for those of us who are space geeks. This is an alternative history moon exploration story set in the 1960s and 70s, based on some real plans and equipment which never flew. It's all a lot more raw and frontier than the staid NASA programs, and draws on some of the early Army and Air Force Man In Space programs.
It shares some concepts with the 1968 Robert Altman film Countdown, which I only discovered the other year. Alas, Countdown isn't on DVD yet, but somebody (AMC or TNT, I don't recall) was showing a beautiful widescreen print, so one suspects that someone is resurrecting it.
If Asimov's will print "Harvest Moon", then I really need to finish my Mars story, "Mars Affect", and try shopping it around. (grin) (And no, my title's not a typo...)
Congrats to slithytove on being off to the Writers of the Future workshop/awards/etc. in Seattle. And wow -- I just found a 2003 movie DVD on Amazon.com of I Capture the Castle. Who knew?
Oddities: "Velveeta" is in LJ's spellchecker, but "euro" is not.
I should just end this entry here -- it's almost lunchtime and there's Velveeta and fresh tomatoes waiting in the kitchen... I like when summer produces locally grown tomatoes which actually smell like tomatoes and have a rich taste. And peaches... sigh... it's a great summer for peaches. Hell, even the apricots have been exceptional this summer -- and often I find fresh apricots lacking. Surely the Red Haven peaches must be coming in the next week or so...